An Inteview with Jimmy Carter

Transcript of December 12 interview on Al Jazeera.

RIZ KHAN:President Carter I wanted to have a chance to ask you a question about your book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.. Obviously.I’ll start with a quote actually. The first one on my list, it says “A system of apartheid with two people occupying the same land but completely separated from each other with Israelis totally dominant and suppressing violence by depriving Palestinians of their basic human rights.” Now a word like apartheid is very powerful message coming from you. How much did you have to think about using that one particular word?

FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Well obviously the word applies to what’s happening in Palestine and not what’s happening in Israel itself. Because Israel is obviously recognized as a democracy and within Israel itself, within the nation there are equal rights for both Arab Israelis and also Jewish Israelis.

So the book applies to the Palestines. Secondly I use that word deliberately and it’s an accurate description of the circumstances there because I wanted to provoke an almost non-existent debate and discussion in my own country.

Where rarely is any sort of presentation of the conflicting points of view that I see everyday when I’m is Israel, in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv or when I’m in an Arab country obviously or Europe. So I wanted this book to be somewhat provocative and that’s why I used a deliberately provocative word.

RIZ: Well Sir you’ve faced a lot of backlash in the media, especially the American media for using this word and also for your description of what you feel is wrong with this situation. What is your view on the American media’s backlash with you? What’s your view on the way the American media stands on this nowadays?

CARTER: Well I feel quite as ease and think the media has been very fair to me. Certainly the electronic media, radio, television, I’ve probably been on 60 or 70 broadcasting stations since I began promoting my book just about a week ago. And they’ve permitted me to answer their questions and to present my views and explain my book without any intimidation or editing. I can’t say the same thing for all of the written media. But even there when I have submitted an editorial versus I’m in Los Angeles right now, I’ve submitted an editorial to the Los Angeles time at their request and last week they published it in their newspaper. But my reference to the general discussions before my book was published and my hope is the publication of the book itself, which is quite an accurate text by the way, will open up fir the first time and maintain open for the first time in many many years equal in it equal discussions of the issues that relate to Palestine.

RIZ: So I want to get to another quote in the book. This one, the second one I have in my list here, referring to obstacles to peace in the Middle East. You write “Israel’s continued control and colonization of Palestine land have been a primary obstacle to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land.” Now you’ve accused to being anti-Semitic for the comments you made in the book and those sorts of comments. How do you respond to that claim?

CARTER: Well you didn’t quote that whole thing because I went on to say on the other hand the Israelis feel intimidated and quite often afraid, I know many Israelis and they are seeing horrible acts of terrorism of violence against innocent Israeli citizens, both inside Israel where there weren’t any combatants and also in occupied territories. So there’s equal blame on both sides and obviously as long as there are acts of violence against innocent Israelis, the Israelis are gonna react in a very strong way to protect themselves and they use these terrorist attacks or acts of violence, if you prefer to call it that, as an excuse for maintaining their control over occupied territories and also for building the wall which penetrates deep within Palestine.

Israelis used the building of an enormous wall around Gaza. The excuse was this would inhibit terrorists’ attacks, to use that phrase, against Israeli citizens.

So there are troubling circumstances on both sides and every Israeli knows the threatening comments that are coming for instance from Iran from Tehran vowing that Israel as a nation would be destroyed and they read some radical voices among the Palestinians saying that they would never accept the right of Israel to exist and to live in peace. So the blame for the problem that has prevented peace is obviously from both sides.

RIZ: Well Sir, we’ve had a large number of emails, I’m going to read two of them one after the other because they refer to similar subjects and get your response to them once I’ve read them. The first one’s from Lina Barakat who writes from Palestine, who says ” If you had this clear stand of the Arab-Israel conflict while you were still in office, would it have changed history? How can we break through this vicious cycle of “silence while in the office and talk later”? Please convey my gratitude and admiration for Mr. Carter” The second one from Riaz Gaudir, which we got from our feedback forum on Al Jazeera says “President Carter was at the heart”

CARTER: I would rather take it one at a time because I may not remember them both. Let me say that when I was in office I spent 4 years to the best of my ability using all the influence of my personal life and the influence I had as President of the United States to bring peace to Israel and her neighbors. I met with every leader in the entire Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, as well as multiple factions in Israel and I tried to find some leaders who would negotiates and I finally got Begin and Sadaat. Prime Minister Begin of Israel and Sadaat from Egypt to negotiate, others refused. The major threat to Israel militarily and otherwise at the time was obviously Egypt. I knew that before I became president there had been 4 years in just 25 years. We were successful in negotiating a peace agreement at Camp David between Begin and Sadaat. It was signed in September 1978 and it guaranteed withdrawal of Israel from occupied territories and specifically honoring UN 242 and also Prime Minister Begin agreed specifically to withdraw Israelis military and political forces from Palestine. This was presented to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, and they approved this agreement by 85%. Later 6 years later..6 months later in April of 79 I finally negotiated a detailed peace treaty between Israel and Egypt and this was also ratified by both governments and not a word of that peace agreement between Israel and Egypt has been broken. Now since 1979, almost 27 years, so I did the best I could when I was president and if all of those commitments had been honored then we’d have peace in the Middle East.

RIZ: Sir I’m gonna get in a call from Turkey because Ahmed is on the line and would like to ask a question.

Call from Ahmed, Turkey: First my honor to speak to Mr. President. When I first became citizen I voted for you and I still now I don’t understand how you lost the election. My question to you: Is it time to start a new party beside the Republican and the Democrat…the far right and the far left is really making the issue very big..

RIZ: It was really about the two parties. Is it time for a third party in the US?

CARTER: I don’t thinkwe’ve had efforts for third party candidates for many many years. In fact when I ran for President Re-election, the third party got 10%, I got about 41% and President Regan got about 50% and he won. So there’s been.there’s room for third parties but I think it’s quite unlikely they would have a major third party candidate in 2008 but it’s still a possibility. We have 2 parties in our country and most people believe that it will continue but it’s not guaranteed. There’s nothing that would prevent it on the Constitution.

But as far as the Middle East peace process in concerned, I don’t think’s gonna make much difference which party is controlling the Congress and it may make a difference about which party controls the White House because up until 6 years ago every president had tried to bring accommodation between Israel and its neighbors by some form of peace talks. But for the last 6 years, as you know there hasn’t been one day of peace talks.

RIZ: Sir we have Lou on the line from Illinois in the USA. It’s nice to have a call from the United States. Go ahead Lou.

LOU: Yes good morning President Carter. I’m so glad that you’ve written this book. As a student of Middle East politics and an American Christian, I wonder do you believe the reason that Americans support is so strong for Israel perhaps might have to do with the Christian belief, or the Christian misunderstanding of the historical state of Israel with the modern state of Israel.

CARTER: I think that it’s certainly a major factor that may not be understood in the rest of the world. I teach Bible lessons in my little church every Sunday, I taught 2 days ago and then a week before I taught. I teach about 40 times a year when I can be in my hometown of Plains. I teach half the lessons in Hebrew Scriptures and the other half in the New Testament. Every since I was 3 years old I’ve always looked upon Israel as a people that was blessed by God through his covenant by Abraham. I taught this last Sunday as a matter of fact. I reminded people that Abraham’s first child from Ishmael was a founder of the Arab nations in general. His second child obviously, by his wife Sarah was a founder of the Jewish people and then after the early Christian church was founded, Paul explainedSaint Paul explained that those blessing from God for his children were based not on the race but on their faith. Since Christians believe have faith in God to have faith in Jesus Christ that we are also children of Abraham. So Christians, Muslims and Jews all are children of Abraham, and I think that’s one of the factors that many people outside this country don’t understand. But most of our teachers in Sunday school church sermons has been devoted to the protection of Israel and Israel’s falling out with God and being punished and when Israel was in favor with God, how God rewarded the Israelis. So I think this is a major factor of the situation in America. Also of course there is a very strong and powerful organization completely legitimate that was founded when President Dwight Eisenhower was in office in the 1950’s. Now 50 years ago the American Israeli Political Action Committee and purpose is to explain to the American people the policies of the Israeli government and to induce the American people to accept those policies as part of American policy. Those are the two major factors. But I think as you point out this is a very important factor that the Christian believes that nation of Israel and the people of Israel have God’s blessing.

RIZ: President Carter you have some suggestions toI just wanted to get it through one of your quotes from your book where you say there is some prospect for both sides, “the rhetoric and demand from both sides may be harsh, but there are obvious areas of agreement that can provide a basis for progress.” So on that note, Sir what would you suggest?

CARTER: I read the quote from Prime Minister Haniya who is Hamas head of the parliament. What needs to be done by Hamas is to continue their cease fire. Secondly they need to be accommodating with Fatah leaders to get a unity government and the best proposal I’ve seen is by Marwan Barghouti who’s a prisoner in Israeli prisons but to bring them together.a declaration. It’s very clear that no further acts of violence will be perpetrated against Israel and that Hamas will accept the same proposal and that then Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia gave to the Arab League that is that Israel will be accepted to live in peace within its legal borders.

I think that Hamas needs to do that, if Hamas will just say we will accept Isael’s right to exist and to exist in peace inside it’s 1967 borders, inside borders that are guaranteed by the United Nations resolutions, inside borders they have accepted in the past. I think that would be a major step forward. It would make it much easier for people that want peace to see some progress made. So I hope we’ll have some peace between Hamas and Fatah, a unity government and a declaration by all Palestinians in position of authority ‘we will accept Israel’s right to exist in peace within its legal borders.’

RIZ: We have Kelly on the line from the United Kingdom in Cheshire, Kelly go ahead.

Mr. President good evening to you. I wonder why nobody and I mean nobody did, in office or out of office to say to Israel “you are wrong”, nobody. When they do say, and if they succeed to do say to Israel they are in the wrong that accuse of being anti-Semitic. It is absolutely ridiculous, which they accuse you to be now. Which is amazing and it seem to me that the..

RIZ: President Carter go ahead. So Jewish lobbies in control, nobody’s actually speaking out.

CARTER: Well it’s not the Jewish lobby by the way. It’s the Israeli Political Action Committee and this does not include nearly all the prominent Jews. Since I wrote this book by the way, I would say 8 or 10 very prominent Jewish organizations have expressed their full approval for the book. These are ones in America who are strong supporters of Israel but want to see Israel change its policies so that peace can come to the country that they love. So it’s not the Jewish lobby, it’s a lobby that’s designed to explain the government of Israel’s policy in America. And that’s the reason I finally wrote this book, which I knew would be quite controversial because as a former president and as someone who’s helped bring peace to Israel with Egypt, I wanted to able to speak out and I’m perfectly willing to accept some epithets against me. I’m not anti-Semitic at all and this is just a small fringe of radical people in my country and you have the same kinds of people in Great Britain from where you’re speaking, and also they exist in every country on Earth. But in general American people would like to see peace come to Israel and also peace come to the Palestinians.

Let me say once again that when anyone from an Arab country or Muslim country that the Jews in America don’t like the book, that’s not true at all. I’ve had overwhelming support from Jews in this country and from Jewish organizations in this country. Last night I was signing books in Pasadena California, there were demonstrators outside, by far the largest number of demonstrators who were Jews by the way were in favor of my book and in favor of peace in the Mid East. There was a smaller group of Jewish Americans who criticized my book. So it would be a mistake for anyone to interpret the fact or to claim that the Jews in America are any different from other citizens in America. Overwhelmingly in my opinion both Jews and others in America are in favor of peace in Israel and justice and peace for the Palestinians and for other nations who live in the Middle East.

RIZ: Sir with about a minute to go I’ve got a question. You’ve lived a full life; you were born in a small town in Georgia and went on to be President and a peacemaker. I wonder from your perspective have you done everything you set out to do? Have you achieved your own expectations in life?

CARTER: Well there is one expectation I haven’t achieved in life and that is to help bring peace to people in what I call the Holy Land. This has been a burning desire of mine ever since before I became President and even after I left the White House. My hope is that this book in a small way will simulate new talks, new discussions and eventually peace negotiations between Israel and first of all the Palestinians and the recent Baker-Hamilton committee have recommended. Also peace talks between Israel and Syria, to bring peace to the entire Holy Land. That is a frustrating desire of mine that I hope to see in the remaining years of my life.