It's a rare honor to ask questions of a former president, and we are grateful that President Carter was able to take the time in between his work with his wife, Rosalynn, for the Carter Center and Habitat for Humanity and his many writing projects to speak with us about his hopes for the region and his thoughts on the book.
A big thank you to President Carter for granting our request for an interview.
An Interview with President Jimmy Carter
Q: What has been the importance of your own faith in your continued interest in peace in the Middle East?
A: As a Christian, I worship the Prince of Peace. One of my preeminent commitments has been to bring peace to the people who live in the Holy Land. I made my best efforts as president and still have this as a high priority.
Q: A common theme in your years of Middle East diplomacy has been that leaders on both sides have often been more open to discussion and change in private than in public. Do you think that's still the case?
A: Yes. This is why private and intense negotiations can be successful. More accurately, however, my premise has been that the general public (Jewish, Christian, and Muslim) are more eager for peace than their political leaders. For instance, a recent poll done by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem showed that 58% of Israelis and 81% of the Palestinians favor a comprehensive settlement similar to the Roadmap for Peace or the Saudi proposal adopted by all 23 Arab nations and recently promoted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Tragically, there have been no substantive peace talks during the past six years.
Q: How have the war in Iraq and the increased strength of Iran (and the declarations of their leaders against Israel) changed the conditions of the Israel-Palestine question?
A: Other existing or threatened conflicts in the region greatly increase the importance of Israel's having peace agreements with its neighbors, to minimize overall Arab animosity toward both Israel and the United States and reduce the threat of a broader conflict.
Q: Your use of the term "apartheid" has been a lightning rod in the response to your book. Could you explain your choice? Were you surprised by the reaction?
A: The book is about Palestine, the occupied territories, and not about Israel. Forced segregation in the West Bank and terrible oppression of the Palestinians create a situation accurately described by the word. I made it plain in the text that this abuse is not based on racism, but on the desire of a minority of Israelis to confiscate and colonize Palestinian land. This violates the basic humanitarian premises on which the nation of Israel was founded. My surprise is that most critics of the book have ignored the facts about Palestinian persecution and its proposals for future peace and resorted to personal attacks on the author. No one could visit the occupied territories and deny that the book is accurate.
Q: You write in the book that "the peace process does not have a life of its own; it is not self-sustaining." What would you recommend that the next American president do to revive it?
A: I would not want to wait two more years. It is encouraging that President George W. Bush has announced that peace in the Holy Land will be a high priority for his administration during the next two years. On her January trip to the region, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called for early U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. She has recommended the 2002 offer of the Arab nations as a foundation for peace: full recognition of Israel based on a return to its internationally recognized borders. This offer is compatible with official U.S. Government policy, previous agreements approved by Israeli governments in 1978 and 1993, and with the International Quartet's "roadmap for peace." My book proposes that, through negotiated land swaps, this "green line" border be modified to permit a substantial number of Israelis settlers to remain in Palestine. With strong U.S. pressure, backed by the U.N., Russia, and the European Community, Israelis and Palestinians would have to come to the negotiating table.
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From Publishers Weekly
The term "good-faith" is almost inappropriate when applied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a bloody struggle interrupted every so often by negotiations that turn out to be anything but honest. Nonetheless, thirty years after his first trip to the Mideast, former President Jimmy Carter still has hope for a peaceful, comprehensive solution to the region's troubles, delivering this informed and readable chronicle as an offering to the cause. An engineer of the 1978 Camp David Accords and 2002 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Carter would seem to be a perfect emissary in the Middle East, an impartial and uniting diplomatic force in a fractured land. Not entirely so. Throughout his work, Carter assigns ultimate blame to Israel, arguing that the country's leadership has routinely undermined the peace process through its obstinate, aggressive and illegal occupation of territories seized in 1967. He's decidedly less critical of Arab leaders, accepting their concern for the Palestinian cause at face value, and including their anti-Israel rhetoric as a matter of course, without much in the way of counter-argument. Carter's book provides a fine overview for those unfamiliar with the history of the conflict and lays out an internationally accepted blueprint for peace.
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