Jimmy Carter on Palestine and Peace


Two weeks ago, I heard Zbigniew Brzezinski comment that Jimmy Carter had done something that few former U.S. Presidents did — other than Richard Nixon — and that was write major articles and give significant oratorical addresses on foreign policy without consulting their former national security advisors.
Bill Clinton probably does much of his speechifying without getting gold stars from Sandy Berger and Tony Lake, but there is still enough consultation with Berger that I’ll leave Clinton on the ‘other presidents’ list for the time being.
But Brzezinski gave Carter robust praise for his bold, serious, and no nonsense comments on the importance of ending the Israel-Palestine standoff over final status negotiations. Carter and an increasingly impressive list of Republicans and Democrats are trying to nudge the administration forward on getting negotiations between Israel and Mahmoud Abbas going.
Here are two items — the first a speech by Carter at the Council on Foreign Relations which is linked here, and the second a great article, “Colonization of Palestine Precludes Peace,” which ran the day before yesterday at TomPaine.com.
Here is a large opening chunk from Jimmy Carter’s article:

For more than a quarter century, Israeli policy has been in conflict with that of the United States and the international community. Israel’s occupation of Palestine has obstructed a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land, regardless of whether Palestinians had no formalized government, one headed by Yasir Arafat or Mahmoud Abbas, or with Abbas as president and Hamas controlling the parliament and cabinet.
The unwavering U.S. position since Dwight Eisenhower’s administration has been that Israel’s borders coincide with those established in 1949, and, since 1967, the universally adopted U.N. Resolution 242 has mandated Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied territories. This policy was reconfirmed even by Israel in 1978 and 1993, and emphasized by all American presidents, including George W. Bush. As part of the Quartet, including Russia, the U.N. and the European Union, he has endorsed a “Road Map” for peace. But Israel has officially rejected its basic premises with patently unacceptable caveats and prerequisites.
With Israel’s approval, The Carter Center has monitored all three Palestinian elections. Supervised by a blue-ribbon commission of college presidents and distinguished jurists, they have all been honest, fair and peaceful, with the results accepted by winners and losers.
Hamas will control the cabinet and prime minister’s office, but Mahmoud Abbas retains all authority and power exercised by Yasir Arafat. He still heads the PLO, the only Palestinian entity recognized by Israel, and could deal with Israeli leaders under this umbrella, independent of Hamas control. He has unequivocally endorsed the Quartet’s Road Map. Post-election polls show that 80 percent of Palestinians still want a peace agreement with Israel and nearly 70 percent support Abbas as president.
Israel has announced a policy of isolating and destabilizing the new government (perhaps joined by the United States). The elected officials will be denied travel permits, workers from isolated Gaza barred from entering Israel and every effort is being made to block funds to Palestinians. The Quartet’s special envoy, James Wolfensohn, has proposed that donors assist the Palestinian people without violating anti-terrorism laws that prohibit funds from being sent directly to Hamas.
In the short run, the best approach is to follow Wolfensohn’s advice, give the dust a chance to settle in Palestine and await the outcome of Israel’s election later this month. Hamas wishes now to consolidate its political gains, maintain domestic order and stability and refrain from any contacts with Israel. It will be a tragedy — especially for the Palestinians — if they promote or condone terrorism.
The preeminent obstacle to peace is Israel’s colonization of Palestine. There were just a few hundred settlers in the West Bank and Gaza when I became president, but the Likud government expanded settlement activity after I left office. President Ronald Reagan condemned this policy, and reaffirmed that Resolution 242 remained “the foundation stone of America’s Middle East peace effort.” President George H.W. Bush even threatened to reduce American aid to Israel.
Although President Bill Clinton made strong efforts to promote peace, a massive increase of settlers occurred during his administration, to 225,000, mostly while Ehud Barak was prime minister. Their best official offer to the Palestinians was to withdraw 20 percent of them, leaving 180,000 in 209 settlements, covering about five percent of the occupied land.
The five percent figure is grossly misleading, with surrounding areas taken or earmarked for expansion, roadways joining settlements with each other and to Jerusalem and wide arterial swaths providing water, sewage, electricity and communications. This intricate honeycomb divides the entire West Bank into multiple fragments, often uninhabitable or even unreachable.

Trying to imagine a solution to what seems to be an insoluble, complex mess in the Palestinian-Israel border dispute is vital to American and Israeli security interests.
The status quo does not allow America to move forward a credible agenda that will appeal to other Muslim citizens throughout the Middle East. We may not only lose Iraq — but may end up at war with Iran — and may find ourselves with no allies or supporters at all in the Middle East, and that makes Israel’s circumstances untenable as well.
This border problem must be solved — and yes, Hamas needs to put some better cards on the table than it has thus far — but America needs to get more serious than it has been about ending this standoff.

— Steve Clemons