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Former President Jimmy Carter was greeted with thunderous applause as he entered the Bren Center Auditorium at UC Irvine on Thursday, May 3, 2007. Over 3,400 students, faculty, staff and alumni - a record number crowd for UCI - gathered to hear Carter's views concerning the Middle East conflict between Israel and Palestine. His visit was hosted by the Center for the Study of Democracy and the Model United Nations in association with the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding and the Department of Political Science in the School of Social Sciences.
After a short welcome and introduction from Chancellor Michael Drake and Center for the Study of Democracy Director William R. Schonfeld, students Catherine Corrigall-Brown and Jessica Newman had the honor of introducing the nation's 39th President of the United States, Jimmy Carter.
Carter began his lecture stating his would not be a "political speech." Rather, his goal would be to share with the UC Irvine community in attendance his experiences and views on developing a peaceful solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine through balanced negotiations between the two countries.
He proceeded to give a short autobiographical account of his successes as the nation's 39th President of the United States (1977-1981), highlighting the establishment of a blue ribbon commission for the Holocaust Museum during his term and most notably, the role he played in developing a historical peace agreement between Israel and Egypt via the Camp David Accords. "To achieve peace, I had to be seen on both sides as an honest broker," Carter said to the UC Irvine audience of his experience successfully negotiating the Camp David Accords.
Peace in the Middle East is "not a simple subject," Carter said as he referenced a statement made by Pope John Paul II in which the Pope mentioned two possible solutions to the conflict, one realistic, one miraculous. "The realistic solution would be a divine intervention from heaven; the miraculous solution would be a voluntary agreement between Israelis and Palestinians," Carter said, setting the stage for his main topic of discussion.
"Very few people on Earth have had the chance I've had to observe relations in the Middle East," Carter said, speaking to his experiences as President and founder of the Carter Center, an organization devoted to the advancement of human rights and the alleviation of human suffering.
Remarking on his recently released book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, which has sparked heated debate from both sides on this issue, Carter detailed his experiences with the peace process in the Middle East and his position on the conflict between Israel and Palestine, describing the "plight of the people of Palestine" as a direct result of "Israel's continued control and colonization of Palestinian lands."
"Palestinians have been removed from their most productive land which is now occupied by citizens of Israel," he explained at Thursday's lecture. He then challenged UC Irvine to "not take my word for it" and instead, put together a group of students to travel to Israel and see for themselves the issues he raised.
Summing up his brief talk, Carter reiterated his stance that "long time prospects for peace in the Middle East are not an impossibility," and that "peaceful negotiations between Israel and Palestine must continue to be a priority for all."
Pre-selected student-drafted questions were then fielded by Carter covering a wide range of topics including recognition of the Hamas-led Palestinian government by the United States and Israel, the next U.S. presidential administration's ability to impact peace in the Middle East, and implications of a full withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, among other topics.
When questioned about his view on campus rallies obstructing the peace process in the Middle East, Carter challenged student leaders from the opposing groups to travel together to the Middle East and witness for themselves the issues they are debating. He indicated that such debates do not obstruct the peace process, but that all should see first hand the issues they are so divided against.
When asked what the implications of a free Palestinian state might be, Carter compared it to "morning breaking after a dark night; a lull after a large storm," supporting his position of an Israeli withdrawal of Palestinian borders.
The full list of questions submitted for review and those selected by the faculty-student committee for questioning at the lecture may be viewed at http://www.socsci.uci.edu/events/carter/question.php, along with Carter's responses. A transcript of Carter's lecture may also be viewed at this site.
Carter's stop at UC Irvine marks the third visit made by a U.S President to campus since its founding in 1965.
-Heather Wuebker, Social Sciences Communications