Jimmy Carter and the art of growing up

You could say Jimmy Carter was tempting fate by meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal — after all, his entirely appropriate evocation of apartheid in reference to the regime Israel has created on the West Bank earned him the label “Holocaust-denier” from the more demented end of the American Zionist spectrum. But Carter, bless him, is sticking to his guns, making the rather straightforward adult argument that has eluded so much of the U.S. political mainstream that the only way to achieve peace is to talk to all of those whose consent it requires.

And I’d say Carter has reason to suspect that despite the pro-forma criticisms of his Meshal meeting from Secretary of State Condi Rice as well as the McCain-Clinton-Obama roadshow, the backlash won’t be anything like the firestorm created by his apartheid book. It was reported today, in fact, that the Bush Administration is regularly briefed on back-channel talks between Iranian officials and a group of former U.S. diplomats led by Papa Bush’s U.N. ambassador, Thomas Pickering. So, far all the posturing and bluster, there’s a back channel. And I’d wager that despite the official sanctimony, Carter will be debriefed on his conversations with Meshal by both Israeli and American officials — because Meshal is a key player, like it or not.

Carter gets reduced protection in Israel

A dispute erupted Monday over the lack of Israeli secret service protection for former President Carter as he visited this border town and called rocket attacks by Palestinian militants “a despicable crime” that he hoped a cease-fire would halt.

Carter’s planned talks with the leader of the militant group Hamas and a book he published in 2006 that called Israeli policy in occupied Palestinian territories “a system of apartheid” have caused official displeasure in Israel. His efforts to meet Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and senior Cabinet ministers were rebuffed.

Israel’s Shin Bet security service, which is overseen by Olmert’s office and normally helps protect visiting dignitaries, has not assisted U.S. Secret Service agents guarding Carter.

Jewish liberals to launch a counterpoint to AIPAC

Organizers said they hope those efforts, coupled with a separate lobbying group that will focus on promoting an Arab-Israeli peace settlement, will fill a void left by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, and other Jewish groups that they contend have tilted to the right in recent years.

The lobbying group will be known as J Street and the political action group as JStreetPAC. The executive director for both will be Jeremy Ben-Ami, a former domestic policy adviser in the Clinton White House.

“The definition of what it means to be pro-Israel has come to diverge from pursuing a peace settlement,” said Alan Solomont, a prominent Democratic Party fundraiser involved in the initiative. In recent years, he said, “We have heard the voices of neocons, and right-of-center Jewish leaders and Christian evangelicals, and the mainstream views of the American Jewish community have not been heard.”

Solomont is a top fundraiser for the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), but the organizers include supporters and fundraisers for both Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). Many prominent figures in the American Jewish left, former lawmakers and U.S. government officials, and several prominent Israeli figures, as well as activists who have raised money for the Democracy Alliance and, are also involved.

Guns, God and gotchas

Long ago I discovered that the word “frankly” often meant a lie was coming. I learned this from an insurance agent, who preceded every attempt to sell me useless coverage with a “frankly.” This is why I distrust what Hillary Clinton said about Barack Obama and his admittedly klutzy statement about guns, church, immigrants and bitterness — “elitist, out of touch and, frankly, patronizing,” she said. Frankly, I don’t believe her.

And this, frankly or not, is the trouble with Clinton. Obama clearly misspoke. But there are very few moments with him where I feel that he does not believe what he is saying — even when, as with his lame capitulation of leadership regarding the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, I can’t respect it. With Clinton, on the other hand, those moments are frequent. She is forever saying things I either don’t believe or believe that even she doesn’t believe. She is the personification of artifice.

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