Remarks by Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter
at Brandeis University
23 January 2007
The following is a transcript of remarks delivered by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter at Brandeis University, Waltham, Mass., on Jan. 23, 2007.
It is a great pleasure for me to be here with you this afternoon. I might say in the beginning that, except for an invitation from the U.S. Congress to deliver my inaugural address from the U.S. Capitol almost exactly 30 years ago, this is the most exciting invitation I've ever received. And, it's gotten almost as much publicity.
I've been cautioned by students and others who invited me to leave plenty of time for questions at the end. So, I'll do that. As a matter of fact, I don't often write my speeches, but I decided to this morning. I read over it before I left home in Plains, Ga. It took fifteen minutes without any pauses for applause. So I can predict for you that I'll be ready to answer questions in about 15 minutes.
First of all let me say that it is an honor to return to a university that is named for a great jurist, whose opinions helped shape the moral values of the nations that I served as President. His strong support for freedom of speech is exemplified by the students and faculty giving me an opportunity to come here today, and Justice Brandeis' leadership in the establishment of the nation of Israel and also his courageous championship of individual rights affects the subject to be discussed by me.
It may be difficult for young students and even professors to realize what I faced as a new president concerning the nation of Israel. There was an oil embargo by Arab OPEC nations, with a secondary boycott of any American corporation doing business with Israel. There had been four major wars in 25 years against Israel, led by Egypt, the only Arab country that then had Soviet military support, that had the status of a formidable challenger. There had been a lack of concerted efforts to bring peace to America's closest ally, Israel, in the Middle East, and there were no demands on me at all as a successful candidate to initiate any kind of negotiations. There had never been a national site in America as a reminder of the despicable facets of the Nazi Holocaust. Also, the Soviet Union at that time permitted only a handful of Jews to leave Russia each year.
After becoming president, I began to communicate publicly with noted human rights heroes like Andrei Sakarov and to confront Soviet leaders at every possible opportunity I had with them on behalf of Natan Sharansky and others. This increased tension between me and President Brezhnev, president of the Soviet Union then, but within two years, annual Jewish emigration to America from Russia increased to more than 50,000. I was grateful when Sharansky was released, and he gave me credit for having saved his life.
We also supported a very controversial law sponsored by Congressman Ben Rosenthal that prohibited secondary boycotts against Israel, with the severe penalties against any U.S. corporation that violated the new law.
And in 1978, on Israel's 30th birthday, on the South Lawn of the White House with Prime Minister Menachem Begin there and hundreds of rabbis from around the country, I announced a Commission of about 50 members to establish a Holocaust Museum, with Elie Wiesel as its chairman. The Holocaust Museum in Washington is a tribute to their good work.
As one of my highest priorities, I negotiated the Camp David Accords, which David mentioned, between Israel and Egypt in 1978, in which, in exchange for peace, Israel agreed to grant full autonomy for the Palestinians. I wrote autonomy, and Prime Minister Begin said, "Why don't you make it full autonomy." And the withdrawal of Israeli military and political forces in the Camp David Accords from the Egyptian Sinai and the lands of the Palestinians. This agreement was ratified by an 85 percent majority in the Israeli Knesset. Six months later, we concluded a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, not a word of which has been violated now for almost 27 years. This removed from Israel its major Arab military threat.
I left office believing that Israel would soon realize its dream of peace with its other neighbors a small nation no longer beleaguered, that exemplified the finest ideals based on the Hebrew scriptures that I have taught on Sundays—I still teach—since I was 18 years old, where, in the English language version of Hebrew scriptures, the word "justice" is mentioned 28 times and the word "righteousness" 196 times.
Since leaving the White House, I have traveled throughout the Middle East at every opportunity, to encourage peaceful relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and I've traveled extensively in the West Bank and Gaza. I would say, without fear of being contradicted, that few people on earth have had a greater opportunity to understand the complex interrelationships in the Middle East peace prospects from personal observations.
More recently, I have led The Carter Center in monitoring the Palestinian elections of 1996, 2005, and 2006, which required from me and my associates at The Carter Center a thorough and intimate involvement with the candidates who ran, public officials, and Palestinian citizens throughout East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, and also working closely with Prime Ministers Shimon Peres in 1996, Ariel Sharon in 2005, and Ehud Olmert in 2006, who gave their full political support to these adventures.
I am familiar with the harsh rhetoric and extreme acts of violence in the Middle East that have been perpetrated against innocent civilians, and I understand completely the fear among many Israelis that threats still exist against their safety and even their existence as a nation. During all these years—as David said, 33 years—I have reiterated my strong condemnation of any acts of terrorism, which are not justified at any time or for any goal.
In summary, I have spent a great deal of my adult life trying to bring peace to Israel and its neighbors, based on justice and righteousness for the Palestinians. These are the underlying purposes of my new book.
Let me refer now to my use of the word "apartheid." I realize that this has caused great concern in the Jewish community. The title makes it clear that the book is about conditions and events in the Palestinian territories and not in Israel. The text makes clear on numerous occasions that the forced separation and the domination of Arabs by Israelis is not based on race and should give no aid or comfort to any of those who have attempted to equate racism with Zionism. The driving force for the resulting oppression and persecution comes from a minority of Israelis and their desire for Palestinian land.
Let me refer now to the controversial word again. Prominent Israelis, including a former attorney general, Ben Yair, who served under three prime ministers of both the Likud and Labor parties; scholars and legislators, including Mrs. Shulamit Aloni; editors of major newspapers, including Ha'aretz; human rights organizations, including B'Tselem; and a group of litigants who have recently in the last week appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court in Jerusalem have all used and explained the word "apartheid" in much harsher terms than I, pointing out that this cruel oppression is contrary to the tenets of the Jewish religious faith and contrary to the basic principles of the nation of Israel. Both Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu have visited the territories and used the same description.
Originally, as you may know, the West Bank only comprised 22 percent of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, just 22 percent, Israel 77 percent and Gaza
1 percent. But their choice hilltops, vital water resources, and productive land have been occupied, confiscated, and then colonized by Israeli settlers. Like a spider web, the connecting roads that join more than 200 settlements in the West Bank, often for the exclusive use of Israelis, Palestinians are not permitted to get on those roads or even to cross some of them. This divides this area into small bantu stans, isolated cantonments. In addition, there are more than 500 checkpoints in the tiny West Bank, and a huge dividing wall, sometimes as high as these rafters, 40 feet high, and a fence in other places that goes deep within the West Bank. All of this makes the lives of Palestinians almost intolerable. This harms Israel as well by angering the entire Arab world and makes peaceful relationships more difficult.
David mentioned here a while ago, what could students here do about it? It would be an intriguing experience for a group of Brandeis professors and students to visit the occupied territories for a few days, to meet with leaders and private citizens, and to determine whether I have exaggerated or incorrectly described the plight of the Palestinians. While there, you could also assess a subject that I have not mentioned: whether treatment of Arabs inside Israel is fair and equitable.
I have never claimed (nor believed) that American Jews control the news media; that's ridiculous to claim. But I have reiterated that our nation's overwhelming support for Israel comes from among Christians like me who have been taught since I was three years old to honor and protect God's chosen people from among whom came our own Christian savior, Jesus Christ.
An additional factor, especially in the political arena, is the powerful influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which is exercising its legitimate goal of explaining the current policies of Israel's government and arousing maximum support in America for those policies. There have been few significant countervailing voices in the public arena, and any debate is still practically nonexistent within the U.S. Congress.
I am convinced that the withdrawal of Israeli occupying forces from Arab territories will dramatically reduce any threats to Israel. An immediate step must be the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, now absent for six years. There has not been a day of peace talks for six years. President Mahmoud Abbas is the official spokesman for the Palestinians, because he is the head of both the Palestinian National Authority, which is not recognized officially by Israel, and the PLO, and has repeatedly called for peace talks.
But in the last few weeks, President George W. Bush has announced that peace in the Holy Land will be a high priority for his administration during the next two years, and on her current trip to the region, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called for an early U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian meeting to discuss the peace process. She has recommended the 2002 offer of all 23 Arab nations as a foundation for peace. The offer was this: full recognition of Israel based on a return to its internationally recognized borders. This offer is compatible with official U.S. policy, key U.N. resolutions supported by the United States and Israel, previous agreements approved by Israeli governments in 1978 at Camp David and in 1993, the Oslo Agreements, and the "road map" for peace developed by the "quartet" of the United States, Russia, the United Nations, and the European Union.
Israel will never find peace until it is willing to withdraw from its neighbors' land and to permit the Palestinians to exercise their basic human and political rights. As indicated in the Geneva Accords, announced in November 2003 in Geneva, Switzerland—I was there and made the keynote speech—this "green line," or eastern border of Israel, can be modified with negotiated land swaps to let approximately half of the Israeli settlers remain in their highly subsidized homes east of the internationally recognized border. These homes remaining would be very close to the so-called "green line." The premise of getting peace in exchange for Palestinian territory that is adequate for a viable and contiguous state has been acceptable for several decades to a substantial majority of Israelis--- (I've observed and studied those public opinion polls very closely. They always have 60 percent or so.)---but not to a minority of the more conservative leaders, who are unfortunately supported by most of the vocal American Jewish community, through AIPAC's influence. And I don't criticize it.
The current policies are leading toward an immoral outcome that is undermining Israel's standing in the world and is not bringing security to the people of Israel.
These same premises, of recognizing Israel, acceptance of all past agreements, and the rejection of violence, will have to be accepted by Hamas and any government that represents the Palestinians. The long-term prospects are not discouraging. In fact, a poll last month, in December, by the Harry S. Truman Institute at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, found that 81 percent of citizens in the occupied territories approved and 63 percent approval among Israelis. So you see, an overwhelming majority of Palestinians and Israelis support peace for Israel based on the acceptance of Israel of its international borders with some modifications, with justice and peace for the Palestinians. An early exchange of the three Israeli soldiers for some of the 10,000 Palestinian prisoners will expedite the peace process.
What I have covered in these few minutes is a brief summary of the contents of my recent book. They provide an avenue that can lead to what all of us want: A secure Israel living in peace with its neighbors, while exemplifying the principles of ancient sacred texts and the philosophy of Justice Louis Brandeis: justice and righteousness.
[End of speech.]