Peace versus Democracy in Palestine: A Conversation with Jimmy Carter

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Council on Foreign Relations
New York, NY

THOMAS R. PICKERING:  First, a few introductory reminders.  I want to welcome our fellow national members who are listening to this meeting via teleconference.  We'll be hearing some of their questions submitted by e-mail during the question and answer session.  A reminder, please turn off your cell phones, BlackBerrys or other wireless impedimenta that might somehow interrupt the tranquility of this event.  I want to remind the audience that this meeting is on the record. 

Ladies and gentlemen, it's a pleasure and an honor for me to be here today to introduce President Jimmy Carter, who will speak this afternoon on a whole range of broad Middle Eastern issues.  President Carter needs no introduction to any audience in this country or around the world, and when we spoke on the telephone last week, his advice was to keep it short, and I promised Mr. President I would.

You all know the history of his career, and it's outlined in great detail on the notes for this meeting.  I'd only want to add two things that I think are glowingly obvious, but worthy always of repetition when it comes to speaking about President Carter. 

In some ways, like all presidents after their terms of service, he has carved out his own very special niche.  Many of us believe that he has done that perhaps better than most, if not all of the others, in the diversity, in the humanity and the dedication of service and the thoughtfulness of the role that he has carved out for himself.  Historians will finally work out the answer to that question.  But I know that many of you here in the audience with me today will join in encouraging the historians to see this as another critically important contribution by President Carter in his continued service to his country and to mankind.

The second point is equally and glaringly obvious.  President Carter continues to follow, to understand, to intrepret, to analyze, and support the ongoing process of peace in the Middle East.  We have gone from a recent potential high point with expectations that the coming Israeli election might produce new opportunities, matched by the work and leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas on the Palestinian side, now to a new and different situation in which we can find it easy to be dominated by despair and disappointment.

President Carter's recent book, "Our Endangered Values:  America's Moral Crisis," addressed a number of these critical issues, and I know that President Carter this afternoon will also speak to us about these salient problems and take your questions and comments.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, please join with me in welcoming President Carter for his presentation to us on, "Peace Versus Democracy in Palestine" and the issues of the broader Middle East.

Mr. President, please.  (Applause.)

PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER:  Thank you.  Well, first let me say that it's a rare opportunity for me to come and speak to this council, and I'm deeply honored.  Richard, thank you for letting me come.  And, Tom, thank you for those remarks.

Instead of the published topic -- (laughter).  I know that we all share a dream of peace in the Middle East.  And this afternoon I intend to review what has brought us to this present situation, the obstacles still before us, and some things that must be done to bring peace and justice to the region.  The comments that I'm going to make will focus on some aspects that are not usually discussed freely and frankly in this country.  I know the political sensitivity of these issues, but I'll be as accurate and as frank as I possibly can.  I don't intend to run again for public office, and I have Secret Service protection the rest of my life.  (Laughter.)

The three most basic premises are quite clear and simple.  First, Israel's right to exist and to live in peace must be recognized and accepted by Palestinians and all other neighbors.  Second, the killing of innocent people by suicide bombs or other acts of violence cannot be condoned.  And third, Palestinians must live in peace and dignity, and permanent Israeli settlements on their land are a major obstacle to this goal. 

Let me first review the official position of the United States.  From Dwight Eisenhower to the road map of George W. Bush, our policy has been that Israel's borders coincide with those of 1949.  The United States has consistently stated since 1967 that U.N. Resolution 242 is binding on Israel as a foreign power that is occupying Palestinian territory.  To quote its key commitments, "The inadmissability of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every state in the area can live in security, and the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from the territories occupied in the recent conflict" -- I'm still quoting -- "and a termination of all claims or states of belligernecy, and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty of territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries, free from threats or acts of violence." 

That United Nations Resolution 242 is the foundation for any possibility of peace in the future.  These exact words have been accepted and reemphasized by Israel at Camp David in 1978, and in Oslo in 1993.  But permanent settlements have been considered by some as, quote, "creating facts on the ground" clearly designed to preclude withdrawal from the occupied territories.  There were just a few hundred settlers in the West Bank and Gaza when I became president, and all my predecessors had categorized each settlement as both illegal and an obstacle to peace. 

After I left office, the Likud government expanded its settlement activity, precipitating a strong statement by President Reagan in September 1982, and I quote, "The Camp David agreement remains the foundation of our policy. The United States will not support the use of any additional land for the purpose of settlements during the transition period.  Further settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel, and only diminishes the confidence of the Arabs that a final outcome can be freely and fairly negotiated.  The United States will not support annexation or permanent control of territory by Israel.  United Nations Resolution 242 remains wholly valid as a foundation stone of America's Middle East peace effort.  It is the United States' position that in return for peace, the withdrawal provision of Resolution 242 applies to all fronts."  Unquote.

After a major breakthrough in the peace process occurred under President George H.W. Bush and Secretary James Baker at Madrid, the president reemphasized U.S. opposition to Israeli settlements, and even threatened to withhold American financial aid to Prime Minister Shamir as a deterrent.  Jim Baker announced at the time, "I don't think there is any greater obstacle to peace than settlement activity."

The assassination of Prime Minister Rabin in 1995 brought a tragic halt to the Oslo peace process, and Israel rejected its major premises after Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon declared it to be, quote, "national suicide."

Although President Clinton made strong efforts to promote peace, most notably at Camp David in 2000, a massive increase of settlers occurred during his administration.  By 2001, there were 225,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza.  The best offer made to the Palestinians -- by President Clinton, not Prime Minister Barak -- was to withdraw 20 percent, leaving 180,000 in 209 settlements covering about 5 percent of the land.

The 5 percent figure is quite misleading.  It describes only the actual footprints of the settlements.  In addition, there are other large areas that have been taken or earmarked for future expansion -- roadways that joined the settlements with each other and to Jerusalem, and life arteries, so-called, that provide water, sewage, electricity and communications.  These range in width from 500 to 4,000 meters, and Palestinians cannot use or even cross many of these connecting links. 

This honeycomb of settlements and their interconnecting arteries divides the entire West Bank into multiple fragments, often uninhabitable or even unreachable.  There are also about a hundred military checkpoints completely surrounding Palestine and along the roads going into and between Palestinian communities.

In 2002, President George W. Bush endorsed an Arab proposal to normalize relations with Israel in exchange for withdrawal to its own borders.  And the following year he and other members of the international Quartet reemphasized U.N. Resolution 242 as a basis for a permanent agreement and called for a sovereign Palestinian state side by side with Israel.

Secretary of State Colin Powell stated what is still the current American position concerning Middle East peace, and I quote again:  "The Palestinian leadership must end violence, stop incitement and prepare their people for the hard compromises ahead.  All in the Arab world must make unmistakably clear, through their own actions, their acceptance of Israel and their commitment to a negotiated settlement.  Israel must be willing to end its occupation, consistent with the principles embodied in Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, and accept a viable Palestinian state in which Palestinians can determine their own future on their own land and live in dignity and security."

The PLO accepted the road map, and Israel also announced its acceptance, but with 14 caveats and prerequisites, some of which preclude final peace talks.  Let me just list a few:

First, the dismantling of Hamas, collection of all illegal weapons, and their destruction.

Second, cessation of incitement against Israel.  But the road map cannot state that Israel must cease violence and incitement against the Palestinians.

Third, Israeli control over Palestine, including the entry and exit of all persons and cargo, plus its "airspace and electromagnetic spectrum."  I'm quoting.

Fourth, the waiver of any right of return of refugees to Israel.

Fifth, no discussion of Israeli settlement in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.  No discussion of the status of the Palestinian Authority and its institutions in Jerusalem.

And finally, no reference to the key provisions of U.N. Resolution 242.

A major goal of my life while in political office and since I was involuntarily retired from the White House -- (soft laughter) -- has been to ensure a lasting peace for the Israelis.  Even before I was president, I was going to Israel, and I established personal relationships with Yitzhak Rabin, Moshe Dayan, Golda Meir, Abba Eban, and other Israeli leaders.  And I learned all I could about Israel and its political and military challenges.  In my first year as president, I called publicly for a Palestinian homeland, and I met personally with Rabin, Begin, Sadat, Assad, Hussein, and the leaders of Lebanon.

Sadat was a special ally, and he and I agreed to make a major effort for peace.  He first suggested an international conference, to be held in Cairo, including the five permanent members of the Security Council, but I disagreed with him.  And so he decided to go to Jerusalem instead.  His speech to the Knesset spelled out the maximum Arab position, but it led to the Camp David negotiations of 1978.

There Sadat had only two demands:  a withdrawal by Israel from Egyptian territory and basic rights for the Palestinians.  Begin agreed to both, including full autonomy for the Palestinians -- the "full" was Begin's own suggestion -- a reaffirmation of U.N. Resolution 242 and the withdrawal of Israeli military and political forces from the occupied territories.  This agreement was ratified overwhelmingly by the Israeli Knesset.

Begin also promised to freeze settlement activity until permanent peace talks were concluded, but he subsequently stated that his commitment would last only three months.

We then concluded our comprehensive treaty between Israel and Egypt, which has never been violated by either side, not a word.

This removed any major military threat from Israel, at least from outside sources.  Although Sadat's commitment was condemned by many Arab nations, and he was assassinated by militants, Jordan's later accommodation with Rabin was accepted without significant Arab dissent.

The Carter Center, which my wife and I head, has maintained close relationships in the Middle East for the past quarter century.  Seeing little interest in peace talks during the eight years after I left the White House, I made several extensive visits to Saudi Arabia, the nations surrounding Israel, all of them, and with Palestinians in those countries outside and also in the occupied territories.  I continued personal ties with Prime Minister Menachem Begin and his Likud successors, and with the Labor Party leaders, and always gave follow-up briefings back in Washington to Secretary of State George Shultz and the national security adviser.

More recently, with Israel's approval, we have 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.  The most recent one was the 62nd election that we have monitored.  It's the best one I've ever seen.

Let me outline now the key players in the Middle East. 

Mahmoud Abbas, which everyone there calls Abu Mazen.  It's very important to understand -- he will remain in office as president for three more years and has great powers under Palestinian law, which he inherited from Arafat.  He's also the undisputed leader of the PLO, the only Palestinian entity recognized by Israel.  He has publicly endorsed the road map without equivocation, and has been eager to negotiate with Israel since he was first prime minister three years ago, and now is president.

Post-election polls just done within the last week show that nearly 70 percent of Palestinians still support him as president, and more than 80 percent in the same poll still want a negotiated peace agreement with Israel.

Abbas told me after the election that because of Israeli -- the strains -- the Palestinian Authority was bankrupt, and the poverty level among Palestinian families had more than doubled in the past five years.  There were no funds to meet their February or subsequent payrolls for schoolteachers, welfare workers, nurses, social workers, police, and no way to pay Israeli suppliers for electricity or water.

He added that only 10 percent of our security force had ever been permitted to have side arms or adequate communication equipment.

Let me speak now about Hamas.

Their members have gained a strong majority of the National Assembly, as you know, and this month will become prime minister and form a cabinet.  Abbas has decided that his party will not participate in the cabinet.  Their party whip and spokesman, Dr. Mahmoud Ramahi, has told me that they want a peaceful, unity government.  I'm not certifying his veracity.

Abu Mazen -- they want to handle all foreign policy.  And they say -- he said -- and my wife took notes -- that they can extend their 18-month cease-fire, which is called hudna, for -- and I quote him -- "Two, 10 or 50 years if Israel will reciprocate."

Future actions will of course reveal their true commitments and the character of Hamas.  I'm not vouching for them.

My guess is that they now want to consolidate their political gains, maintain domestic order and stability and refrain from any contacts with the Israelis. 

It will be a tragedy, especially for the Palestinians, if they promote or condone violence or terrorism.  Israel has announced a policy of isolating and destabilizing the new government, perhaps joined by the United States.  I think so.

None of the elected parliament members will be given travel permits.  They can't assemble to have a congressional meeting.  All the workers from Gaza -- all workers -- are now prevented from entering any territory controlled by Israel.  And every effort is being made to block funds to Palestine.

There's been a reconfirmation from the foreign minister within the last week that President Abbas is, I quote, "irrelevant."

And now the Quartet.  They are in a quandary and somewhat divided as a secret way to punish Hamas while avoiding further deprivation of the Palestinian people.  They have a special envoy, as you know -- Jim Wolfensohn, former head of the World Bank.  He stated this week that Israel and the United States were violating Quartet policy and could cause despair and tension, leading to violence and chaos.

He and I both attended the last Quartet meeting in London the Monday after the election.  He says it's particularly troublesome just before the Israeli election.  "The Palestinian Authority faces a $260 million budget deficit before the Hamas government is formed, mainly because of Israel's withholding up to $130 million" -- I'm quoting Jim Wolfensohn -- "in Palestinian taxes and customs revenue collected by the Israelis."

Plus, Washington's requesting the return of $50 million that was given to the government of Abbas by the United States in direct aid.

Since the Hamas victory as a result of an election that the United States encouraged -- even forced on reluctant Israelis -- this punishment undermines the credibility of our commitment to democracy, unless we can control the outcome of an election.

Wolfensohn proposed a donor meeting in mid-March to seek ways of financing the Palestinian government without violating anti-terrorism laws that prohibit funds from being sent directly to Hamas.

In the short term, I believe 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 -- at about the same time, by the way, that the new Palestinian government will be formed.

What, then, are the impediments to future progress?

As before, they're the same:  continuing threats of violence from radical Palestinians, refusal to acknowledge Israel's right to exist in peace, the determination of Israeli settlers to occupy Palestinian territory and in the last few years -- the last five years -- Israel's rejection of any substantive talks with Palestinian leaders.

One particularly potentially negative result of the Gaza withdrawal has been the demonstrated desire of Israeli leaders to make unilateral decisions without involving either the United States or the Palestinians.  Gaza, as presently defined and circumscribed, is a non-viable economic and political entity, and there is no possibility of a viable and acceptable Palestinian state in what now remains of their territory.

The latest development is a huge, concrete dividing wall being erected in populated areas, and a high fence in more rural areas.  On the road between Jerusalem and Ramallah, just when it branches off to go to Jericho, the wall is 40 feet high, as a high as a four-story building.

This wall is built entirely within the West Bank, and often intrudes deep into Palestinian territory to encompass more land and settlements.  The plan is that the wall will completely surround Palestine, including along the Jordan Valley west of the Jordan River, and already about two dozen Palestinian communities on the Israeli side of the wall.

With tension rising, the occupying forces have become increasingly oppressive in order to retain control over the Palestinians, who are deprived of basic human rights, militarily, politically and economically.  This is obvious to anyone who visits Palestine.

From September 2000 until 10 days ago -- the last data I could get -- 3,982 Palestinians and 1,084 Israelis had been killed in the conflict, and this includes many children:  708 Palestinians and 123 Israelis.

This is interesting.  Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and a few others pointed out years ago that efforts by Israel to control this situation will be increasingly difficult as a negative number -- as a relative number of Palestinians increases demographically, both within Israel and what is left of Palestine.

This is also interesting.  Most Israelis know this to be true and have seen this relationship as a distortion of their ancient more and religious values.  Over the years, as Tom Pickering knows, consistent opinion polls have shown that about 60 percent of Israeli citizens favor withdrawing from the West Bank in exchange for permanent peace.

Despite these immediate challenges, we must not assume that the future is hopeless.  Down through the years I have seen despair and frustration evolve into hope and progress.  Twenty-seven years ago, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat could certainly not have been expected to find peace.  Their nations had been at war for four times in the previous quarter century, and every Arab country in the world was formed to destroy the nation of Israel.  Later, because of the good offices of Norwegians, the terrorist policy of the PLO was transformed to one of peaceful accommodation with Israel.  And soon thereafter, as a result of that, King Hussein made a similar commitment to Sadat.  This time there was wide Arab acceptance of his decision.

During these earlier times when moderate leadership and sound judgment prevailed on both sides, citizens in the holy land have lived and worked side by side in relative harmony.  There is little doubt that accommodation with Palestinians can bring full Arab recognition of Israel and the right to live in peace with an Arab commitment to restrain further violence initiated by extremist Palestinian groups.

History has proven the need for a strong mediation role by the United States, and there is little doubt that a lack of a persistent effort to resolve the Palestinian issue is a primary source of anti-American sentiment throughout the Middle East and a major incentive for terrorist activity.  There is almost complete deference by other nations to the United States as a strong and objective mediator, but this balanced role is constrained by powerful lobbying forces.  But I know from experience that the American Jewish community will support reasonable concessions by Israel in exchange for clear progress toward peace.

An overwhelming number, both the Israelis and Palestinians, want a doable two-state solution, based on well-known criteria that have been spelled out in the Quartet's road map and with complete compatibility in what is known as a Geneva Initiative.  A privately negotiated plan, it overcomes what I believe is a fatal flaw of the road map -- the easily delayed or completely avoided step-by-step procedure.  The Geneva accord prescribes a few issues.

First, secure borders for Israel and overwhelming recognition by the Arab world.  Remember, this is Palestinians and Israelis who agreed.

Second, a sovereign, contiguous, viable state for Palestinians recognized by the international community.

Third, a harmonious sharing of Jerusalem with arrangements that ensure unfettered access to holy sites for all.

Fourth, the resolution of claims for displaced Palestinians that focuses on resettlement in the new Palestinian state or equivalent compensation.  This responsibility -- this is very important -- would not be on Israel, but on the world community.

And fifth, more than half of the Israeli settlers would remain in the West Bank.

It is obvious that there will be inevitable modifications if and when official and sincere peace talks are held, but polling by the James Baker Institute revealed that a majority of the Israelis and Palestinians approved these principles despite strong opposition from some top political leaders.

Let me close by saying this.  It's at least possible -- at least possible -- that the present dramatic shuffling of political parties in Israel and in Palestinian may enhance the now completely stalemated prospect for permanent peace for Israelis with freedom and justice for Palestinians.  I join all of you in praying for this achievement.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

PICKERING:  For the question and answer session, please wait for the microphone and then speak directly into it.  Please stand, state your name and your affiliation, and please limit yourself to one question and keep it concise to allow as many members to speak as possible.

Mr. President, thank you.  That was a forthright speech and a very direct one.  It was a Jimmy Carter classic, and we appreciate that.

There are number of great issues that you raised, and I sat and took notes as you spoke.  And almost every question I thought of you answered, so you did your usually terrific job.

I was impressed as you went through that you pointed out to the fact that the PLO had themselves over a long period of time moved into a negotiating posture; would that they hadn't failed in governance and other circumstances and not lost the support of their own people, but you too pointed out that Hamas may one time, one way or another follow that course.  And you made at least one suggestion to Hamas that we -- or to us that we watch carefully and maybe not incite the situation.

Could you share with us, if you were president, what would you be doing to bring this process back to the negotiating table, particularly with respect to how to deal with Hamas and its newly-elected position, presumably to take a major role in forming a government among Palestinians.  What steps, what ideas, what thoughts do you have for us as to how to deal with Hamas for hopes, which I think many of us share, that Hamas eventually one time or another could become more like the PLO and less like Hamas?

CARTER:  Well, Tom, the last thing I want to do is to be a spokesman for or a supporter of Hamas or to condone the terrible atrocities that they have perpetrated.  But I think it is at least offer us a glimmer of hope that since they declared a cease-fire in August of 2004, the -- even the Israelis told me they have not been guilty of any terrorist acts, which shows that they are highly disciplined.  They have control over their people much more effectively than Fatah and Arafat ever did.

Secondly, my guess is that Hamas wants to have stability within the West Bank and Gaza during the next few months.  I think they want to establish or consolidate the political gains that they have made.  They will have formed a government without arousing increased international condemnation or criticism, and I believe they want to show again to the Palestinian people that they are worthy of the trust that was placed in them by the outcome of the election.  As a matter of fact, the Carter Center has monitored for the last year or so the local elections that were held throughout the West Bank.  Hamas has been quite successful in many cases.  And I don't know of a single instance where mayor and city council, as we would call them, has been even accused of corruption or guilty of any act of violence.  So they've shown, at least at the local elections, that they can be responsible.

My hope is that there will be a moderate position in Hamas in the future.  I don't have any way to think that it will.  I'm not naive about that.  And I don't think that they are going to disavow their long-term commitments, which the PLO never did until Oslo, that Israel must withdraw from the occupied territories.  My guess is that the best we could ever hope for in Hamas or other organizations of that kind is to adopt the proposal that is shared unanimously by the Arab nations, promulgated by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, approved at the Fez Summit, and also endorsed by President Bush, which I quoted, and that is that Israel withdraw from the occupied territories in exchange for peace of a permanent nature.  I don't see that as at all likely.  But the road map calls for the border of Israel to be modified by good-faith talks between the two.

And so I look upon the Geneva initiative as good.  If that can be done, in my opinion there's a good chance that Hamas will remain a peaceful organization and not resort to violence or terrorism.

PICKERING:  Thank you, Mr. President.  I have a second brief follow-up question. 

The idea of unilateral steps on the part of Israel in the future, given what we see as the potentially very difficult confrontation between Hamas and the Israelis, is, you could call it the opinion d'jour, certainly it's grown --


PICKERING:  -- as people talked about this as a potential outcome.  What's right about unilateral steps and what's wrong about unilateral steps in bringing about a settlement of the problem between Arabs and Israelis?

CARTER:  I have known Ariel Sharon probably for 30 years.  In a few cases he's been very helpful to me.  At Camp David, I found out later Begin called Sharon, Sharon said take the proposal that's before you.  And later, when we had the peace treaty going with Egypt, he was the main one that advised Begin to accept the terms of the peace treaty.

Sharon, I think, followed a suggestion that was made by Ehud Olmert, whom I've known since he was first a candidate for the Knesset as a Likud member.  Olmert was the first one that I ever read about who said that the long-term demographic changes would soon overcome Jewish control because the Palestinian population is growing so rapidly, and advocated withdrawing from substantial portions of the West Bank and Gaza. 

When I was with Sharon, my last long talk, a little over a year ago when Abbas was elected president, Sharon let me know clearly that he would withdraw from Gaza no matter what the Israeli Cabinet said, as long as he could get enough votes in the parliament -- in the Knesset.  And he did so. 

Well, this was a major move in the right direction.  They had about 5,000 or 6,000 settlers, which required 125,000 soldiers to protect them.  And to withdraw from Gaza was a very good move in the right direction.  This has left Gaza, though, as I said, in a non-viable state.  They are completely isolated, except some open and shut doors going into the Sinai Desert.  They can't now go even to work in Israel, which surrounds Gaza on the other three sides.  Also, they don't have any airport, they don't have any seaport, they don't have any way to manufacture or carry on economic matter.  So it's a non-viable state.  And I think that there's a good side to that, but there's a down side in that it was kind of an insult to the Palestinians not to even be consulted and to share in the decision. 

Now, of course, what's happening is that the Israelis are squeezing increasing amounts of land for their existing settlements and potential future settlements, and are building this wall not only in the West Bank, sometimes miles from the green line -- so called -- but also all around the eastern side of Palestine that includes the Jordan Valley.  And they're going to leave the West Bank completely encircled with a wall or a fence.  And if this is a unilateral decision that Ehud Olmert and them are now contemplating, I think it's going to have devastating consequences, and I believe it will lead to increased violence and increased dissension, and a total end, at least in our lifetimes, for any sort of peace settlement in the Middle East.

PICKERING:  One final brief question from one of our national members listening on teleconference. 

Adrian Mediwar (sp) in Los Angeles asks, "What do you believe the United States should do today that we're not doing to support peace in the region?"

CARTER:  Well, I think -- I would like to see us accept the proposition that Abbas is entitled to negotiate on behalf of the PLO --  Israel has never recognized the National Assembly -- as the representative for the Palestinians.  Abbas is eager to do this.  And the Hamas leaders have announced that they want Abbas to represent them in foreign affairs, which includes negotiations with Israel.  So I would like to see the United States do everything they can to strengthen Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Mazen, as a legitimate representative or spokesperson for the Palestinians. 

I would also like to see us be sure that we don't punish the Palestinian people in an effort to castigate the Hamas government.  And we could do this without violating our laws or without violating our principles of not dealing with a terrorist organization by channeling the same amount of benevolent assistance through the United Nations Refugee Program, through UNICEF and other agencies directly to the people.  I don't even contemplate the United States helping to pay salaries for teachers and policemen, but I think that small bill could be paid by contributions from the Arab world.

I would like to see also the United States insist that Israel at least give the Palestinians their own money.  This -- these funds that are collected by Israel for customs and taxes -- that's not Israel's money.  That money belongs, by international law, by the Oslo agreement, to the Palestinians.  And to withhold that from the Palestinian people, I think, is improper, and the United States could use its influence there.

I think we also ought to work very closely with Egypt to see what Egypt can do, working with the Palestinians -- they have access even to Gaza -- so that the leaders of Hamas will maintain a peaceful and constructive and moderate position, pending further possibilities of negotiating through Abbas with the Israelis.

PICKERING:  Can we monitor that money to prevent it from going to terrorism? 

CARTER:  Yes, I think so.  You know, to the extent that UNICEF monitors its own funds, we monitor the funds that we get through the Carter Center, and I don't think there's any doubt that the United Nations High Commission on Refugees can monitor funds going to the refugees in Gaza.  In fact, about half the people who live in Gaza are technically refugees.  So yeah, I think a lot of effort could be made in letting American funds go to the Palestinian people and bypass completely the Hamas officials.

PICKERING:  Can we take questions from the audience, please?  Right here, this lady in the middle.  I'm sorry.  Please stand up.  Yeah. We'll get you the microphone.  Please identify yourself.

QUESTIONER:  I'm Moushumi Khan.  I'm an attorney here in New York.  I'm so grateful to be able to hear you. 

The first question I asked at the council was to Dennis Ross:  when we could have a(n) honest conversation about Israel and Palestine.  And I thank you from the bottom of my heart for starting that honest conversation.

And my question to you is -- you speak about the different parties to this debate or to this issue, but you don't really speak about U.S. domestic constituencies, let's say.  And particularly you -- the first question highlights it.  Can you speak to the religious right's involvement in support of Israel?

PICKERING:  Hm.  You're not getting easy ones.  (Chuckles.)

CARTER:  Well, if you mean the extreme right, the fundamentalists, that is a group of Christians -- I'm an evangelical Christian myself, but there's a fairly substantial and very influential group of Christians who believe that the final coming of Jesus Christ can only occur after the entire Holy Land is taken over by Israel.  And that includes the destruction, for instance, of the Dome of the Rock and other Arab or non-Christian groups. 

In the -- and I'll be brief.  In the final stages, though, it also calls for the execution or conversion of all Jews to Christianity.  (Laughter.)  Those are the two elements to it.  And they believe very fervently in this.  And they have been a major factor in raising funds to promote the settlement of -- on the West Bank and in Gaza in the past.  And they have also condemned any withdrawal from the Holy Land.

As you know, Pat Robertson, one of their spokespersons, after Ariel Sharon was stricken, said this was God's punishment for him because he withdrew from Gaza. 

I teach Sunday school every Sunday.  So technically, Gaza has never been part of the kingdom of either David or Solomon.  That was controlled by the Palestinians, who had iron then.  And I don't want to go in too much detail.  (Laughter.)  But anyway, some -- there are some people who look upon all of Jordan and a good portion of Syria as part of the great kingdom. 

So that's what the right-wing Christians espouse, is the complete eradication of any non-Jews from the West Bank and Gaza, the ultimate coming of Christ, the death or conversion of all Jews.  That's what they espouse.

PICKERING:  Another question over here.  Please, right down here in front.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.  Mr. President, my name is Roland Paul, a lawyer in Greenwich.  Welcome back to the council.  It's good to see you here again.

CARTER:  Thank you.

QUESTIONER:  Many -- most people sort of know what the solution ultimately -- you've even outlined it in your speech, in talking between the Geneva accord and the Camp David accord, which have some differences.  But every administration, including your own, during the Cold War -- the way it worked was --

PICKERING:  Could we go to the question, please?

QUESTIONER:  Sure.  Don't you think it's going to be a lot of informal, you know, quote, "unilateral" solutions on both sides that really point to the same solution, with a lot of back-channel conversation?

CARTER:  Well, if you say "unilateral," that bothers me, because I think that to have a permanent solution, you've got to have some sort of agreement that would accommodate the main desires of the Palestinians.  And to confiscate their land is not the right way to do it.  As a matter of fact, when Israel was formed as a nation, and the West Bank and Gaza were left, that -- their property only included 22 percent of the territory.  The West Bank is a tiny part of the land, and that's what Israel has been taking over.

And so I think that I don't see any permanent solution unless Israel withdraws substantially from the West Bank.  And there can be some modifications in crucial places close to Jerusalem, where enormous settlements have already been established.  And the Palestinians -- by the way, approved quietly by Arafat -- negotiated that agreement.  I'm not saying that Hamas would agree.  But this meant that over half the total Israeli settlers in the West Bank could stay where they are.  They still would leave a contiguous West Bank.  You know, it's separated from Gaza as it is. 

The Clinton proposal, if you look at the maps involved, almost divided the West Bank itself into three parts, with Israeli territory in between, plus Gaza separately.  So a contiguous -- I would say respected -- Palestinian state adjacent to Israel, with modifications of the '67 border,  I think, is the only permanent solution.  And I don't feel that can be done unilaterally.  It's got to be done with negotiations.

The United States has got to play THE major role.  And I think if the United States government, either this administration or perhaps the next one, will take that on, it will tremendously reduce the intense animosity that now exists against Americans all over the Muslim world.

And I -- as I mentioned in my speech in just one-half a sentence, that it -- one of the major things is that most Muslims do not believe that we are treating the Palestinians fairly.

PICKERING:  Just down here, please, in the center.

QUESTIONER:  I'm Donald Shriver, former president of Union Seminary here in Manhattan.  One of the truly shocking incidents in your new book is the visit from your Southern Baptist Convention president to your White House, when he said to you upon leaving that he prays that you will abandon your devotion to the secular religion of humanism.

Well, I read you very differently from he -- than he does, and I think the world needs now a relation between religion and human rights, which you mentioned twice in your speech.  And I wonder what you see as the connection between, let us say, faithful Christian faith and an advocacy of human rights for everyone.

CARTER:  Let me add quickly, that was not Dr. Adrian Rogers who made that comment.  It was a different Southern Baptist Convention president.  Anyway, I believe -- and I'm sure you know better than I because of your distinguished position -- that the essence of my faith is one of peace.  We worship the Prince of Peace, not preemptive war.

Secondly, I think it's -- (laughter) -- I think -- (applause) -- I think it encompasses justice, which means that powerful people should be benevolent and kind and discerned to those who are especially in need.  I think it's a matter of humility; a desire to serve others if we are in a position to share what we have; forgiveness, which can lead to the resolution of issues without war; compassion, love -- those kind of things.  And to me they encompass the broad aspects of human rights.

When I was president I had a much more narrow definition of human rights than I do now.  Human rights is much broader than I thought.  If you asked the average American to name the basic human rights, they would say freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom to worship, trial by jury.  All those things are very important, but there is another element of human rights that we quite often ignore; that is, equity of treatment, human dignity -- the right of a human being to live and have a place to exist and to have food and clothing.

I just -- our previous election recently was in Liberia.  Over half the people in Liberia today live on half a dollar a day or less.  It's inconceivable to this group or to me.  How do you exist on 50 cents a day for shelter and clothing and food?  The catastrophe is that there's nothing left even if you exist -- for education, for health care or human dignity or self-respect or hope that life might improve in the future.

So to me, that's what human rights is, and I think every American should feel an obligation to share our enormous security, our enormous wealth and our enormous influence with those in need.  I think that's at least a partial answer to your question.  (Applause.)

PICKERING:  Lady way in the back in either the red dress or the red coat.  If you want to ask a question, dress in red.  (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.  I just wondered in the context of the election results with Hamas --

PICKERING:  I don't know that that's coming through.  Could you hold that closer?

CARTER:  Just hold it close.

PICKERING:  A little closer.

QUESTIONER:  Okay.  I should know this, right?  (Laughs.)  In the context --

PICKERING:  Could you please identify yourself?

QUESTIONER:  Ponchitta Pierce, journalist.  In the context of the elections and the results with Hamas, I wondered if it has given you second thoughts or perhaps the word is additional thoughts about democracy in different parts of the world.

CARTER:  Not really.  I haven't been taken aback from by the results of the election.  All of us who were there as monitors -- I personally visited with my wife 45 voting places that day on election day, and it was obvious to all of us, both before and during the election, that Hamas was going to do very well.  We didn't expect them to get an overwhelming majority, and that was because of a technicality in the law -- (inaudible).

But I wouldn't want to subvert democracy.  Obviously, this election, as I mentioned in one brief phrase in my speech, was supported by the United States and forced on Israel by the United States.  Israel did not want to have the election, but it was forced on them.  So I wouldn't want to say that we shouldn't have democracy as a goal to be espoused by America just because we might have some people elected that we didn't personally approve.

So the answer to your question basically is no.  I think democracy is by far the best organization, and my hope and prayer -- not prediction -- is that with the responsibility of governing, that Hamas might be much more likely to moderate their positions and reject terrorism and violence than if they were on the outside looking in and opposed both to the Israelis and to the existing government, which they didn't -- in which they didn't participate.

PICKERING:  Gillian.

QUESTIONER:  I'm Gillian Sorenson, United Nations Foundation.  Gillian Sorenson U.N. Foundation.  Mr. President, a few days ago, you led a group of Nobel Prize Winners in signing a wonderful letter in support of the new United Nations Human Rights Council, and I want to thank you for that.  As of yesterday, it appears that the United States will not support that, although nearly all of our best friends and much of the U.N. member states are doing so.

Could you reflect a moment on the new Human Rights Council and what that says, that is, what message it sends to the rest of the world if the U.S. stands apart from this effort to improve our human rights efforts in the U.N. through the new Human Rights Council?

CARTER:  Thank you.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.

CARTER:  The questioner has been a sweetheart of mine for many years.  (Laughter.)  She and her husband used to take me in when nobody else would do so, and I couldn't afford a hotel room.  And I want to thank you.  (Laughter.)  I've almost forgot the question.  What -- (laughter) -- the Carter Center has been deeply involved in the reorganization of the United Nations for the last six months.  I've worked very closely with President Eliasson.  He's president of the General Assembly, as all of you know.

And in December he called me and said that he was having a very great problem in getting the key players to come together and agree to a reasonable compromise.  So I devoted one evening in New York, and I think 17 of the most recalcitrant and powerful members came and had supper with me.  These were -- the United States was represented there, plus Cuba and Egypt and Pakistan -- the whole group of them who have -- (laughter) -- who were somewhat troublesome.  (Laughter.)  I felt at the end of that evening and President Eliasson did too that we made great progress, and one of the things I assured them of was that the United States was not going to try to dominate all the other nations in the world in the Human Rights Council.

Well, the next day, our ambassador to the United States came out and demanded that in the new council, that all the permanent members of the Security Council would be permanent members, which subverted exactly what I had promised them.  So I called Condoleezza Rice and told her about the problem, and she said that that statement by our representative was not going to be honored.

Well, we reached a good compromise, in my opinion, not what I wanted and not what Kofi Annan wanted, not what the United States wanted, not what Egypt wanted, not what Europe wanted, but it was a very good compromise and a great improvement over the existing debacle of the present Human Rights Commission.

This will be a much more effective organization.  It will meet at least 10 times as many days per year.  It will not be bogged down constantly in just arguments between the United States and Cuba, going all over the world trying to get enough votes to condemn each other.  (Laughter.)  It will be a good screening process to make sure that despicable members cannot be on the council.  It will be reduced in size.  A lot of improvements.  I don't want to take up any more time with it. 

But unfortunately, despite my entreaties to the secretary of State, the United States did come out against it.  And I understand that within the administration there's a lot of argument; it's not a clear decision.  There are a lot of people in Washington who think that we should have endorsed this compromise.

This morning, by the way, the European Union came out in favor of it, which is a major step forward.  So my hope is that when the vote is taken in the General Assembly, soon, with President Eliasson supervising, that the other countries would out-vote the United States and it will be adopted. 

What the United States -- some United States representatives really want is two things.  They want a few countries always to be a member of the council.  They want a few countries never to be members of the council.  And they don't want a two-thirds vote in the General Assembly because they are very sure that the United States cannot get two-thirds of the vote. 

So, it's a major step in the right direction.  Not nearly what we wanted.  But I hope that it will pass.

PICKERING:  Over here on the side, please.

QUESTIONER:  Hi, Mr. President.  Josh Harris from -- private member of the council.  I'm from Apollo Investment Fund.  I had a quick question.  I think in general the Israeli people and the Israeli politicians have essentially indicated they want to trade the land that you've been talking about for peace with the Palestinians.  How do you do that with Hamas being elected to a majority when Hamas has refused to renounce -- or agree to Israel's right to exist, and when Hamas has continued to say that it wants to practice terrorism and the killing of innocent people?  It puts -- it's very hard to negotiate with people that are murdering your citizens.

CARTER:  Well, to be somewhat repetitive, they don't -- Israel doesn't have to negotiate with Hamas.  Hamas has no official relationship with Israel.  Israel only deals with the PLO -- the Palestinian Liberation Organization.  And Abbas -- Abu Mazen is still the head of the PLO.  So if Israel wants to negotiate under United States auspices, with our help, they could be negotiating with Abbas.  And if they come to a reasonable solution, say something like the Geneva Accords or its modification, they can announce this is the agreement that we've reached.

I believe that the overwhelming portion of readers in the Arab world will accept it and will recognize Israel's right to exist.  As I said earlier, the king of Saudi Arabia has said if Israel will withdraw to its previous borders, we will recognize Israel and recognize Israel's right to exist.  And when that was brought up at the Arab conference, I believe in Fez, the vote was --

MR.     :  Beirut.

CARTER:  In some other place?

MR.     :  Beirut.

CARTER:  In Beirut.  It was overwhelmingly approved.

Well, I also mentioned briefly in my talk that if that happens, in my opinion the Arab world will put tremendous pressure on Hamas:  Do not resort to violence anymore.  Do not resort to terrorism anymore.  We will withhold all funds from you and punish you in other ways.

I think that's the only prospect.  I'm not predicting that it's going to happen, but that's the best option I can see.  And it would lead Israel to an accommodation with their neighbors that would give Israel, for the first time, complete peace and security and a right to live with mutual respect with their neighbors.

PICKERING:  Mr. President, President Richard Haass has enjoined use to follow the rules.  We're now at 4:30, and to follow the rules, I must reluctantly ask that we end the meeting.  But before I do so, thank you most sincerely for your forthright presentation, your willingness to go with us all the way on a lot of difficult questions, and for your willingness, as always, to impart your unusual blend of knowledge and mastery of detail and certainty about the hope for the future in this particularly difficult area.

CARTER:  Thank you.

PICKERING:  Thank you very much, and my deep thanks to the audience.

CARTER:  Can I say one other thing?  Can I say -- (interrupted by applause).

Just let me introduce my oldest son, Jack, and his wife, Elizabeth, who are here.  (Applause.)  And thank you all for being patient with my talk and answers.  Thank you.







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