Questions Selected and Asked of
Former President Carter
Carter Lecture Transcript:
First of all I would like to thank Dr. Drake for letting me come and Willie for arranging this meeting; Katherine and Jessica that was a very nice introduction.
I notice they confessed I had a warm up session in California to come to the highlight today and it was interesting to see that the primary burst and most enthusiastic applause was when Willie told you what they were paying me for coming. So I can see you’re taking very good care of the funds that the Regents give to UC Irvine. As you can see we have a former chairman of the Board of Regents here so he’ll know that you’re taking very good care of the money that they give you.
This is a very important opportunity for me. I’m going to make a non-political speech which may disappoint some of you but let me say first of all that I am going to discuss with you a subject that I hope you will bring up to any candidate of Congress or for President that asks you for your support as we approach the 2008 election. At least you can help screen out the candidates in both parties who are not willing not address my intriguing and complex subject – peace in the Middle East.
I might warn you in advance this is not a simple subject. Pope John Paul II once declared that there are 2 possible solutions to the Palestine/Israeli conflict; one is realistic, and the other one is miraculous. The realistic one involves divine intervention from heaven. The miraculous one will be a voluntary agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
So if the candidates who come to you in these next few months won’t make this following pledge, let me give you advice, do not support them, and this is what I want you to ask them: If elected I will do everything possible to promote balanced negotiations to achieve peace and security for Israel and a secure and contiguous state for the Palestinians. Getting American candidates to take that pledge is almost as difficult as Pope John Paul described because the subject I’m going to talk to you about today is rarely even mentioned in this country.
First I’m going to give you some remarks about my recent book. There has been considerable interest in Palestinian Peace and Apartheid - doesn’t have any punctuation. I wrote every word myself; not feeling obligated to rely on other authors. I might add as a matter of interest that I participated in more than 120 media interviews no holds barred. I answered all their questions, sometimes with discomfort. I received more than 100 invitations to come to universities throughout America. I’ve accepted from Brandeis which Willie mentioned, Embry, George Washington University - I wanted to go to DC, University of Iowa where all the candidates will have to visit in the next few months if they’re going to get a start, Berkeley yesterday and now to the most important of all here at UC Irvine.
Now prior to answering your questions which I look forward to with some pleasure, some trepidation, let me explain my involvement in the Middle East because I know that I served as President before most of you – all of you students - were born. It may be difficult for the students and even some of the professors to remember what I faced as a new president in Washington back in those days.
There was an oil embargo supported by the Arab participants in OPEC against the US and a secondary boycott that was rigidly enforced against any American corporation that did business in Israel. There had been 4 major wars in 25 years, all led by Egypt which was then supported by the Soviet Union with military and funds, the only major Arab challenger to Israel. There had been a lack of any concerted effort to bring comprehensive peace to Israel and I might say that when I was finally elected as President, there was no pressure on me to initiate such negotiations.
There had never been any national site in America to commemorate the despicable plights of the Nazi Holocaust. The Soviet Union at that time permitted only a handful of Soviet Jews to leave the Soviet Union and come to Europe or the US. As soon as I became President, I began to communicate directly and indirectly with what I considered to be human rights heroes. Andre Sacharov and Natan Sharansky and I publicized their plight in every opportunity I had to reach the media and whenever I met with Soviet leaders. I brought up the subject of their unnecessary persecution of Jewish citizens. Within 2 years, this public pressure resulted in more than 50,000 Soviet Jews being permitted to leave the Soviet Union and come to the US. I was very proud when Sharansky was released and he gave our human rights policy full credit for saving his life.
We also passed a law that outlawed any secondary boycotts and imposed severe punishment on any American corporation that complied with this pressure. In 1978 on Israel’s 30th birthday, there was a tremendous crowd on the south lawn of the White House including Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin and several hundred Jewish rabbis and I announced the establishment of a blue ribbon commission to set up a Holocaust museum in our country and I asked a Holocaust survivor to be the chairman. Now that museum in Washington is a tribute to their good work.
I realized at the beginning that to achieve peace in the Middle East, I would have to be seen by both sides as an honest broker. This was not new to me. It was the same policy that had been adopted by my 6 predecessors in the White House, 3 of them democrats, 3 of them republicans. As one of my highest priorities, I negotiated what’s known as the Camp David accords in which exchange for peace, Israel agreed to give the Palestinians full autonomy and to withdraw all of Israel’s military and political forces from the Palestinian territories and also from the lands of Egypt. This agreement was ratified in the Israeli parliament by an 85% vote. Six months later we concluded an official peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. Last month marked 27 years. Not a single word has ever been violated during that time.
Well, I did all I could and I left office believing that Israel would soon realize their dream of peace that they had with all their neighbors. A small nation that exemplified the finest ideals based on the Hebrews scriptures that I had taught since I was 18 years old and still taught last Sunday in my church. The so-called old testament of Hebrew Scriptures mentions justice 28 time and mentions righteousness 196 times.
Since leaving the White House, my wife and I have traveled extensively in the Middle East, all over Israel of course and throughout the Palestinian territories – Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza - trying to encourage peaceful relationships between Israel and her neighbors. There were a few times when the White House, through the National Security advisor or the state department, asked me to bring up sensitive matters with leaders in the Arab countries and I would always do so. My guests could go to all my meetings except those that were discussing official matters.
Well more recently, I have led Carter Center observer teams to monitor 3 elections in Palestine. In 1996 when the Palestinians were permitted to form their own government as a result of the Oslo Agreements, elected Arafat as president and 88 members of the Parliament, and then in 2005 shortly after Arafat died, the Carter Center went back and helped conduct the election that chose Mahmoud Abbas or as he’s more commonly known in the US as Abu Mazen, as their president, and then a year after that in 2006 in January when the Palestinians chose a new Parliament and where Hamas received 42% of the votes but a majority of the members in the new Parliament.
We conducted elections, as one of my introducers pointed out, in 67 towns and I would say that the elections for the Palestinians have been among the most honest and fair, open, safe and peaceful that we’ve ever seen. But in the conduct of an election in a foreign country, we have to immerse ourselves completely in the society there, visiting almost every village and town in the West Bank in Gaza and getting to know the private citizens and all the candidates and the parties the geography, the history. Obviously we can’t go into Palestine and help conduct an election without the approval of the Israeli government, so I went very carefully ahead of time with the Prime Minister andAerial Sharon shortly before his illness and more recently with Ehud Olmert, the President and Prime Minister, and they provided necessary cooperation but always tight and uncomfortable restraints on Palestinians being permitted to vote in east Jerusalem. So very few people on earth, in summary, have had a greater opportunity than I have to understand the complex interrelationships among the leaders and the citizens within the holy land, from my own personal observations.
I’m familiar with the harsh rhetoric and the extreme acts of violence that have taken place in the Middle East that have been perpetrated on all sides against innocent civilians and I understand the fear that many Israelis feel about further violence against their people and maybe even threats from extreme voices to the existence of their nation. I have reiterated through all these years my complete condemnation of any acts of violence against innocent people which is not justified at any time or for any god. In summary, I’ve spent a great deal of my adult life trying to bring peace to Israel and to it’s neighbors along with justice and righteousness for the Palestinians.
I wrote this book to describe the plight of the Palestinians, almost completely unknown in our country, and because I was convinced that we desperately needed debate, almost completely unknown about where we are and where we ought to be going and how to rejuvenate the now non existent peace process sin the Middle East.
Let me refer to my use of the word “apartheid” in the title of the book. I make it very clear that the book refers to Palestine, what’s happening in the land of Palestine and not inside the nation of Israel. And I also make clear that the forced segregation of people inside Palestine and the extreme persecution and domination of the Palestinians by the Israeli occupying forces is not based on racism. It’s based on a few Israelis and their leaders and their desire to occupy, to confiscate, and then to colonize the property of the Palestinians.
There’s a wide use of the word “apartheid” in Israel; it’s used everyday by, for instance, the attorney general Ben Yahir, who served under 3 different prime ministers; by a former honorary outstanding citizen of all of Israel who served in the legislature parliament and is a scholar - her name is Aloni; and by editors of the major newspapers with which some of you are familiar in which editorial boards regularly describe the circumstances in Palestine as “apartheid.” Politicians with cases in the Supreme Court of Israel use the word “apartheid” to describe what’s going on there. They’ve explained the word in much harsher terms than I have, pointing out that this cruel oppression of the Palestinians is contrary to the tenants of the Jewish religious faith and the founding ideals of a nation of Islam. I might point out that both Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu have been to the occupied territories and they describe circumstance there as “apartheid.”
It’s good for us to remember the geography of the holy land. The West Bank only comprises 22% of the land between the Jordan River on the east and the Mediterranean Sea on the west. Israel comprises 77% and the other 1 % is Gaza. But Palestinians in their tiny portion have been forcibly removed from choice hilltops, from vital water supplies, and from their most productive land, and replaced by citizens from Israel who were heavily subsidized to encourage them to move into Palestine and live there.
Like a spider web, interconnecting roads have been built between all of the settlements and then with major roads going only into Jerusalem divide what’s left of the West Bank into little tiny cantonments, about 70 of them. There are more than 200 settlements – 205 the last time I counted - and about 500 check points that obstruct the movement of Palestinians when they’re going to their own shops, going shopping, going to college, going to school of any kind, going to worship. There’s been a huge dividing wall sometimes as high as a 4 story building, most of the time just 30 feet high in the occupied territories that penetrates deep inside the West Bank to carve out portions of what was left of the Palestinian territories. In unoccupied territories, it’s a high fence that’s uncrossable. This makes the lives of Palestinians almost intolerable and I think it harms Israel by angering the Arab world and by making peaceful relationships between Israel and her neighbors almost impossible.
It would be an intriguing experience – I mentioned this to some students this morning at a reception – for a group of professors and students from UC Irvine to visit the occupied territories for a few days, meet with the leaders and the private citizens and determine whether I have exaggerated or incorrectly described the plight of the Palestinians. The students responded that they could only get funds to go to conferences. I think if you put together a group to go, I’ll help you raise the funds.
An additional factor that’s very important in this country, especially in the political arena is the powerful influence of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, known as APAC which is exercising it’s legitimate goal of defending the policies of Israel’s most conservative government and encouraging max support in this country. Under APAC pressure, there are very few if any countervailing voices in the public arena and any balanced debate is still practically non-existent in the US Congress or among Presidential candidates. There’s no debate in this country as there is in Israel, as there is throughout Europe and the rest of the world. In America, no debate.
There’s no doubt that the withdrawal of Israeli occupying forces of Arab territories would dramatically reduce any security threats to Israel. There must be an immediate resumption of peace talks between Israel and Palestine, now absent for more than 7 years. President Abu Mazen is the official spokesman for the Palestinians in 2 organizations; one is the Palestinian National Authority where Hamas has won a lot of seats; the other one is in the PLO in which Hamas does not participate at all.
I’d like to remind you that the PLO is the only organization that’s recognized by Israel or the US or the UN. So the head of the PLO is eager to negotiate and has been ever since he was elected president. Not a day of negotiations has taken place, with the exception of one bold move by Norway in 1993 when the Oslo Agreements were concluded. History has shown that progress is possible in the Middle East only when the US plays a major leading role as a negotiator or mediator. But to play that essential role, America must not be seen as in the pocket of either side. We must enjoy a degree of trust and respect from both sides. We must always make clear our commitment, unswerving commitment, to the security of Israel, but we cannot be peacemakers if America’s governmental leaders are seen as knee jerk supporters of every action or policy of whatever Israeli government happens to be in power at the moment. That’s an essential fact that must be faced, but in this country it has not been faced. The American friends who demand such subservience to Jerusalem are in many cases sincere and well intentioned persons. But they’re tragically mistaken on this crucial issue. Their demands subvert America’s ability to bring the Israelis what they most desperately need and what they want – peace and security within recognized borders.
After 6 years and now 3 months of inaction, President George W. Bush has announced recently that peace in the Middle East would be a high priority for his administration during the remaining time he has in office, which is 627 days and about 22 hours. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has called for early Israeli/ Palestinian talks based as a foundation for peace – these are the Secretary of State’s words – the just repeated offer made first in 2002 of all 23 Arab countries. That is full recognition of Israel based on a return to its internationally recognized borders. Those borders can be modified to some degree. This offer, by the way, by the Arab counties unanimously is completely compatible with the US government’s official policy with the UN resolutions passed with the approval of both Israel and the US with all of the previous agreements that the Israeli Parliament has adopted as the official policy of Israel and also as a more later roadmap for peace about which you’ve heard predicated on the statement made by the international quartet – UN, Europe, Russia, and the US. The bottom line is this: Israel will never find peace until it is willing to withdraw from its neighbors land and permit the Palestinians to exercise their basic human and political rights.
There’s a proposal made in 2003 in Switzerland called the Geneva Accords which spells out almost precisely what has got to be the ultimate agreement between Israel and Palestine using GPS maps, it had an accuracy of only 1 meter, they delineated the border. That should be acceptable between Israel and the Palestinians, which by the way, would leave half of Israeli settlers inside Palestine and swap an equivalent amount of land back to the Palestinians just east of Gaza. It also describes what should happen in Jerusalem and also the right of return. It covers all the issues. When this accord was completed, a copy of it was placed in every mailbox in Israel and in Palestine. A few weeks later, there was a public opinion poll done by the James Baker Institute and it showed an overwhelming majority of both Israel and Palestinians in favor.
Well, the premise of getting peace in exchange for Palestinian territory, adequate for a viable and contiguous state of Palestine, has been acceptable for several decades since before I became president to a substantial majority of Israelis, but not to a small minority who have intruded into Palestine confiscated their land, and intend to stay there forever, and who are unfortunately supported by APAC and the vocal American Jewish community and almost every member of the US Congress. This current policy is leading toward an immoral outcome that is undermining Israel’s standing in the world and is not bringing security.
The growth of anti-Semitic extremism and the unprecedented hostility toward America with less than 5% approval of our country from Egypt and Jordan who used to be our closets friends, that animosity is strictly related to the continuing bloodshed between Israel and Palestine and lack of progress toward peace. These same promises of recognizing Israel within its own boundaries as modified accept its past agreements and the rejection of violence will have to be accepted by Hamas and any other government that is adopted by the Palestinians.
Let me conclude by saying something that may surprise you. The long term prospects for peace in the Middle East are not discouraging. In fact a recent poll in January of this year by the Harry S. Truman Institute and Hebrew University in Jerusalem showed that 81% of citizens in the occupied territories of Palestine approve, and the same poll showed 63% of all Israelis approved, of what I’ve just described as an avenue for peace.
There’s another complicated fact and that is that 3 Israeli soldiers are being held; 2 in Lebanon and 1 in Gaza and it’s obvious that these soldiers should be released, maybe swapped for some of the 9,800 Palestinians who are being held by the Israelis, including more than 300 women and more than 150 children under 16 years old. Last month there was an Op Ed piece in the LA Times by reporter Robert Novack, a very conservative columnist about one of the new cabinet members of the Palestinian’s unity government who declared, and I quote “The PLO’s 1993 acceptance of Israel and their disavowance is a crystal clear and binding agreement that no Palestinian government has the authority to revoke. The new unity government’s platform explicitly pledges it to honor all PLO commitments.” Well this proves that our next President take advantage of this opportunity and not be bound by any allegiance to a powerful lobby that does not promote peace in the Middle East.
What I’ve covered in these last few minutes is a brief and accurate summary of what’s in my book and my ideas and the situation in the Middle East. The text provides an avenue that can lead to what all of us want – a secure Israel living in peace with it’s neighbors while exemplifying the principals of ancient sacred text and the founding fathers of Israel and that includes justice and righteousness for the Palestinians. Thank you very much.
Mr. President, in recent years, many rallies have taken place on America’s college campuses with college students taking sides in the Israel/Palestine conflict and this University is included in that list. Do you believe the lack of cooperation between these conflicting student groups obstructs chances of peace efforts between Israel and Palestine in the Middle East?
Former President Carter:
No I don’t. I think an altercation or debate or sometimes even an uncomfortable confrontation on a college campus in America is a good move in the right direction. But I would like to see the leaders of those two groups form a combined group that would take advantage of my invitation to go to Palestine and see what’s going on. I think if there were debates in the public arena in the US including members of Congress and so forth that brought out into the open all the issues that would not make necessary the debates on the campus. But in the absence of that, I don’t blame the students. If I were a student, I would be debating and maybe demonstrating as well. Thank you Chris, I hope you took part in it.
Mr. President, do you think that Israel and the US should recognize and negotiate with the Hamas led Palestinian government in light of the fact that other countries - including Russia - are beginning to do so?
Former President Carter:
Yes I think they should. I was there on election day and I saw that Hamas candidates won only 42% of the popular vote, but because of the wisdom of the Hamas political organizers, they only had 1 candidate for each seat, so that gave them a majority of the total parliament seats, even though they got less than the majority of the popular vote. Immediately after that, I went to Ramallah, where the Carter Center has a permanent office. I met with the leader of Hamas, Abu Mazen, and I encouraged him to participate in the unity government with Hamas at that time. Mazen decided not to do so. In absence of the Fatah party, Hamas then formed a parliament without any opposition voices which I thought was a mistake. Since then, King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia has brought the leaders of Hamas and Fatah to Saudi Arabia and they’ve now formed a unity government. I think Hamas and Fatah have negotiated so that the key members of the parliament, like the finance minister and interior minister, have been selected from among distinguish Palestinians who are not active members of Hamas or Fatah. One of them, the finance minister, wrote the editorial that I told you about. I think yes, that Israel should negotiate with the unity government because the top leaders of that unity government - including the President - have said we will abide by all the previous agreements the PLO concluded including the Oslo Agreements and the recognition of Israel. I think that negotiations should take place.
Follow up question:
Should they negotiate with Hamas as a terrorist organization?
Former President Carter:
It wouldn’t be negotiating with Hamas as an organization because Hamas is a multifaceted, multinational organization - some of the leaders are in Egypt, some in Syria and so forth. No need for Israel to negotiate with Hamas, but to negotiate with the unity government that comprises all the citizens of the occupied territories that have been formed as a result of an honest and free and open election. Yes, the alternative is not to negotiate at all and to that the stale mate continues and the bloodshed continue. Despite the tremendous pressure being exerted by Israel and the US, some groups are now having negotiations and communications with the unity government, including Russia always, and now more recently the European Union. That wall that’s been built against any sort of dealing with the Palestinian government is being broken down.
Given the wars and terrorism against Israel before 1967 and today’s radical Islamists who reject the right of any Jewish state to exist in the region, what assurances do you have that there would be peace if Israel did indeed withdraw to the pre1967 borders?
Former President Carter:
I make clear that the ‘67 border can be modified by good faith talks to leave at least half to Israeli settlers in Palestine. I think that’s the most logical conclusion. The answer to that is something that I covered in my talk. All 23 Arab nations unanimously have said they would accept Israel’s right to exist within regional borders. They also said when questioned about what relationships would you have with Israel and King Abdullah, speaking for the group, we would have the same relationship between the Arab countries and Israel as we have with each other. So that’s a full demonstration of all the Arab countries including Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt, that they would recognize Israel’s right to exist and live in peace. As I also said in my talk, 81% of the Palestinian people who were questioned in the recent public opinion poll in Hebrew University said they support the 2 state solution with peace for Israel in its recognized borders and justice for the Palestinian. So overwhelmingly, that’s true and the finance minister of the unity government declared in an Op Ed piece in the LA Times that all the previous agreements made by the PLO to recognize Israel would be binding under the new unity government. All of those are evidence that peace could come to Israel and Palestine if Israel would just withdraw to reasonable lines and recognize a Palestinian right to govern themselves. I might add quickly about the wall which is horrendous. It’s an abomination. When it was originally proposed by the Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin with his deputy, they said let’s build a wall on the border between Israel and Palestine. Then Rabin was assassinated because he made peace with the Palestinian through the Oslo Agreements and Netanyahu and Sharon and Olmert and other right wing members of the government said let’s don’t build a wall on the border. Let’s let the war go deep inside Palestine to carve out property that we would in the future enclose in Israel. So that’s the problem with the wall. The international court has said that any wall built on the border would be acceptable as was the case with the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall was built in East Germany right on the border. This wall is not built in Israel, it’s built deep inside Palestine.
Follow up question:
You mentioned the 23 nations agreeing. Do you believe they are willing to take the actions against groups that do not follow the state policies?
Former President Carter:
No doubt about that. Yes. The Palestinian people now are being starved to death because the US and Israel have cut off all funds to them. They are heavily dependent upon Arab financial support just for food and water. Over half the people in Gaza - which is being deliberately strangled with a wall all around it - over half the people are only getting 1 meal a day. And so the political pressure and the economic pressure, in my opinion, would be adequate to convince members of the unity government to accept an agreement with Israel.
What would be the consequences of establishing a Palestinian state for the Palestinians? How would it impact their lives?
Former President Carter:
It would be like morning breaking after a dark night, a lull after a horrible storm. These people are being persecuted incredibly; deprived of economic existence, deprived of freedom to move from one place to another. Their prime property has been taken away from them forcibly. They’re segregated much worse than blacks and whites in this country were segregated during those ancient days when I was a child, and so to hope to form their own state or nation in a contiguous area that they can govern alongside Israel and a chance to live in peace would be like a breath of fresh air or freedom after you’ve been incarcerated after you’ve been in a horrible prison. It would transform their lives completely and that’s what ought to happen.
Mr. President, with the 2008 presidential election just 18 months way, do you believe that the next administration will have the ability to improve Israeli/ Palestinian relations and what will this improvement require on the part of the US?
Every administration of the US since Israel was founded as a nation has had a wonderful opportunity to promote peace. And as I pointed out, when I became President, I was the 7th President to serve after Israel became a nation. All of my 6 predecessors had taken a balanced position between Israel and their Arab neighbors. President Clinton did the best he could; unfortunately just the last few months of his admininstration. He waited 7.5 years before he tried. Unfortunately. But he did the best he could. And he made some good progress. He wasn’t quite successful but it was based on his contribution that the Geneva Accords that I described to you was finally concluded 3 years later. So yes, the next President will have an opportunity, as have all predecessors, to do it. I might say that George Bush Senior was one of the strongest voices from the White House that insisted Israel stop confiscating Palestinian land and quit building settlements. There was a major settlement planned by the Israelis between Jerusalem and Bethlehem; it’s only about 7 miles. And George H.W. Bush said if you continue with that settlement, we’ll cut off aid to Israel - we now give Israel $10 million a day in aid - so George Sr. cut off that aid temporarily and Israel stopped building the settlement. When I was over there later after he left office, the settlement was being built again. So yes, any President, if willing to exert the authority and influence of our nation, can bring about a peace agreement. I might point out that my impression since I wrote my book is that a majority of American Jewish citizens support what I have told you in my talk this morning. But they are very quiet about it because it’s difficult for an American Jewish citizen publicly to criticize the government of Israel under any circumstances. But privately, yes, so there’s no doubt that the President, that if he/she actively supported peace talks, they would have support from the American people, from the international community, and also from a strong majority of American Jewish citizens.
Could you please explain the implications and possible global and regional consequences of a premature withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, leaving a weak ineffective Iraqi government body to maintain control and it’s impact of that on the region?
Former President Carter:
One of the greatest mistakes that our nation has ever made in history was invading Iraq in the first place. It was an action based on lies, either deliberate or inadvertent. It was the abandonment of a worthwhile military engagement that we had initiated in Afghanistan. We abandoned, in effect, our fight against Al Qaeda, the hope of arresting their leader and it has sapped away America’s international form of goodwill and a substantial portion of our monetary resources. It’s dehabilitated our military forces. A very wise group made a recommendation; the Hamilton Baker report unanimously - half democrats and half republicans - recommended we withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible. Not in a disorderly but in an orderly manner and put the responsibility on the Iraqi government to manage their own affairs and to control violence. My own opinion and the opinion of the Baker Hamilton commission was that a large part of the balance that now takes place in Baghdad and in other provinces is caused by the presence of the American troops there. Just removing our troops would lessen the level of environmental balance. The other thing that they recommended that has not yet been done with any sort of commitment and enthusiasm but reluctance by the US government, is to have an international conference to convince the Iraqi people that once the US occupation ends, that the Iraqi’s will have control over their military, political, and economic affairs including oil. And to bring in Syria, Iran and the full scale participation - maybe even along with Russia and France - to let the Iraqi people be reassured that they can run their own affairs. So in my opinion, there would be no deleterious affect of an orderly but fully committed withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.
Whether for economic or security reasons, the US has always had a stake in the Middle East. The region is exceptionally important for my generation who has grown up surrounded by the news and events in the Middle East. How do you see the US/Middle East relations changing during my generation? What can you say to the people of my generation who seem indifferent to what is going on in that part of the world?
Former President Carter:
I think you put your question to include the answer. I think the main problem with college students is indifference, a lack of deep commitment to help resolve and to even assume leadership in changing things around the world which you deplore. The stagnation of the situation in the Middle East is one of the preeminent problems that the world faces now. And you see in the government, which I’ve said ad-nauseam in my remarks this morning, nothing is going on. There’s fear – political fear – among presidential candidates or candidates for US senate or congress, even to speak out in a balanced position on anything that relates to Israel. They’re afraid they’ll lose their campaign for reelection or election. I think there the college student group in the whole country could play a crucial role because you don’t fear the consequences of honesty and frankness in addressing complex issues. You have nothing to lose, really, like I don’t have anything to lose. I’m not running for office. I have secret service protection the rest of my life. I can speak out. I would hope that throughout California, which always takes the initiative in the 50 states in doing good things on the environment, ought to take the initiative in bringing peace to the Middle East and just say we don’t want to ever abandon Israel or Israeli security. We just want good faith, balanced peace talks to initiate, we want justice and fairness for the Palestinians, that’s all we want. It sounds like a proposal about which no one can disagree. But you try to talk to your congress member or your US senator or the Presidential candidates and you’ll find that they are mute. They will not discuss it. I think there is a main role that the college students can play, not just in the Middle East, but in the question of nuclear arms agreements - every single one of which has been violated or abandoned or rejected in the last 6 years. Just as in the case of environmental equality where the Kyoto round and global warming has been completely ignored or derogated or condemned as a promise by this administration. By the substitution of an age old commitment of going to war only when our security was in danger to a concept of preemptive war which is completely unheard of. The abandonment of our nation’s championship of human rights and the substitution of Abu Ghraib prison and Guantanamo prison as an image of what the US does. All these things are issues where various groups of students might decide to adopt them as their primary interest. It just happens that the one I’m talking about this morning is the most important to me, and that’s Middle East peace. There’s no limit, in my opinion, to what college students could do if you would adopt the Middle East peace process or the others that I mentioned as a burning crusade for you and not be deterred by any means from pursuing it with your complete commitment.
Thank you all very much.