The Camp David Accords, a peace agreement between Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, were a major achievement of the Carter administration. President Carter's dedication to promoting peace in the Middle East continues today through the work of The Carter Center to monitor elections, promote human rights, and resolve conflict.
President and Mrs. Carter and The Carter Center have worked to support a viable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to promote comprehensive peace in the region for decades. The conflict between the major Palestinian political parties Fatah and Hamas has been a particular focus. Palestinian national unity is critical to the success of a two-state solution and the conflict has fractured Palestinian democratic institutions and fed a spiral of intra-Palestinian human rights abuses.
The Center's activities aim to bring about sustainable peace between Israel, its neighbors, and other regional actors, including fostering inclusive democratic societies and advancing human rights, accountability, and rule of law.
Building on the Center's field presence and the continuous conflict-monitoring conducted by staff and interns in the Atlanta headquarters, senior Carter Center staff make regular trips to the Middle East to assess developments firsthand. These visits include meetings with government officials, members of key political parties, United Nations and nongovernmental organization leaders, and independent analysts. In particular, Center staff maintain regular contact with leaders in Fatah and Hamas. The Carter Center also works with Israeli and Palestinian peace activists, human rights organizations, and think tanks.
This thorough monitoring allows The Carter Center to be alert to various possible avenues of intervention. In some cases, this can include President Carter's personal intervention to push the parties toward a resolution. For example, in April 2008, President Carter narrowed the distance between Hamas and Israel on the truce in and around Gaza, convincing Hamas to drop its requirement that a truce in Gaza be tied to a truce in the West Bank, thus making the June 2008 cease-fire possible. Also during this trip, The Carter Center and President Carter urged Hamas to resolve the matter of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was captured in June 2006 and eventually released in October 2011. As a result of President Carter's intervention with Hamas leaders, an exchange of letters was arranged between Shalit and his family. The Carter Center's work on Palestinian reconciliation also contributed indirectly to the Fatah-Hamas agreement reached in May 2011.
The Carter Center's Human Rights Program actively pursues a two-pronged approach to facilitate constructive U.S. engagement in Israel and Palestine. First, it provides Israeli and Palestinian human rights defenders the opportunity to inform senior policymakers through firsthand, credible information about ongoing human rights violations that pose a threat to peace and justice for all residents of the region.
In November 2011, the program also supported public events with Palestinian activists engaged in nonviolent protests against the confiscation of Palestinian land in the West Bank, including a panel discussion with Manal Tamimi, a leader of the weekly protests against settlement encroachment on the village Nabi Saleh. Also on the panel was the Rev. Dr. Bernard Lafayette, original Freedom Rider; co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960; and distinguished senior scholar in residence, Candler School of Theology at Emory University. The panel was moderated by Karin Ryan, director of the Human Rights Program.
The program has organized briefings by prominent Israeli human rights attorneys and experts on settlements, Jerusalem, freedom of movement, and Gaza. During key events, including the December 2008-January 2009 Gaza war and the summer 2009 deliberations surrounding the Obama administration's demand for a settlement freeze, these leaders were brought to Capitol Hill to engage with decision-makers on critical policy discussions. The Carter Center, as a result of orchestrating the Israeli speakers series, is now recognized as a leader in efforts to amplify the voices of Israeli and Palestinian human rights leaders.
The program also introduces these leaders to influential U.S. Christian leaders and mobilizes them to support U.S. policy reform through their good offices and large constituencies. These efforts will culminate in achieving progress toward U.S. policies based on the principle of peace with justice and more positive U.S. intervention in this conflict.
The first step in this effort was an event at The Carter Center on May 14-15, 2009, which convened a number of influential Christian leaders representing the mainline Protestant, historic African-American, and evangelical communities. The two-day strategic planning meeting was designed to support current ecumenical efforts that advocate for a new U.S. foreign policy in Israel and Palestine by utilizing the Carter Center's and other key leaders' convening authority to include historically less involved Christian communities in these efforts. Future efforts will include additional symposia, campaigns surrounding religious holidays, and fact-finding missions for religious leaders to the region.
In 2009, The Carter Center, in cooperation with The Arab Thought Forum and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), initiated an electoral reform project in Palestine. This project provided a unique forum for political party representatives and civil society members to discuss electoral reform in Palestine and was the only platform for dialogue between the political parties, including Fatah and Hamas, outside the Cairo reconciliation discussions. The project built consensus on critical electoral reforms by facilitating dialogue between key stakeholders as well as promoting constructive public debate on various issues, including the overall design of the electoral system, quotas for minorities and women, and measures to facilitate voting in East Jerusalem.
Increased dialogue and debate also aimed to contribute to broader efforts to initiate political reconciliation of the major Palestinian political parties. Expanding on this project, The Carter Center and the UNDP launched the Initiative on Dialogue, Consensus Building, and Civic Awareness in Palestine (IDCC) in August 2010. In addition to conflict resolution activities, this project specifically aims to support further electoral reform and democratic governance by building consensus on steps to regularize interim appointments to municipal councils and enhancing Palestinian electoral dispute resolution. A project steering committee, composed of leaders from several Palestinian political parties, was a key element in the initial electoral reform project. The committee has continued to support these activities through IDCC, meeting on a periodic basis to discuss and help build political consensus around these efforts.
In May 2011, Palestinian factions signed a reconciliation agreement that, among other things, called for elections after one year. Prior to signing this agreement, presidential and legislative council elections were postponed on several occasions. Later discussions indicated potential support for holding elections. The Carter Center, which has observed all Palestinian elections since 1996 and maintained an ongoing presence in Palestine since 2005, supports efforts to hold democratic, inclusive elections and to renew the democratic mandate of Palestinian political leaders. Palestinian national unity remains critical to the success of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If the Palestinians cannot speak with one voice, it will be impossible for them to set effective national strategy and, ultimately, negotiate effectively with Israel.
Hamas, the Gaza Siege, and Palestinian Unity
President Carter and The Carter Center observed Palestinian elections in 1996, 2005, and 2006. Independent observation of the 1996 elections for president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and for the PA Legislative Council helped ensure the legitimacy of the elections. Observation of the 2005 PA presidential elections ensured a smooth transition of power within the PA, following the death of longtime leader Yassir Arafat.
Hamas won a majority of seats in the 2006 Palestinian Authority Legislative Council election. In its preliminary statement, the Carter Center's observation mission found that the elections were conducted in line with international standards, though the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza continued to impose constraints on many of the Palestinians' fundamental freedoms, including the rights to assembly, movement, and speech.
Subsequently, Israel and the West boycotted the Hamas-led government because of Hamas' designation as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union. Hamas has been responsible for numerous attacks against Israeli civilians, attacks which President Carter has condemned in meetings with Hamas officials. In the wake of the election, clashes between Fatah and Hamas escalated until June 2007, when Hamas took military control of Gaza, routing Fatah-backed security forces. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas immediately announced a new emergency government in the West Bank that excluded Hamas. The international community responded by channeling funds and support to the West Bank government and hardening its no-contact policy toward Hamas-controlled Gaza, while Israel instituted a draconian closure of Gaza, dramatically decreasing the flow of goods into the territory and prohibiting exports of any kind. This was accompanied by increasing rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, which targeted Israeli communities. While intended as means to bolster the more politically moderate Fatah, the response of the international community has undermined prospects for reaching a two-state solution and for strengthening democracy in Palestine. Hamas enjoys significant segments of support among Palestinians, and thus any effort to promote peace and democratic institutions will only be sustainable if Hamas is included.
With President Carter urging Hamas to accept a truce limited to Gaza (as opposed to covering both the West Bank and Gaza), Hamas and Israel — under Egyptian auspices — agreed to a six-month cease-fire in June 2008. Though the exact terms are disputed, the basic agreement was that Hamas would cease attacks against Israel if Israel would stop attacks against Gaza and open Gaza's borders. The Carter Center's analysis (PDF) has demonstrated that, while this led to a 97 percent reduction in attacks against Israel and Israeli attacks against Gaza, the amount of goods coming into Gaza was only 27 percent of normal levels.
Carter Center efforts to extend this cease-fire before it was due to expire in December 2008 were unsuccessful. After a three-week period that saw a renewed rocket and mortar attack on Israel from Gaza, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead on Dec. 27, 2008. The three-week conflict resulted in the deaths of 1,440 Palestinians and 14 Israelis, left thousands injured, and caused widespread destruction in Gaza.
Since Cast Lead, construction materials and other goods smuggled into Gaza through tunnels under the Egyptian border, together with very modest increases in imports through Israeli-controlled crossings, eventually enabled Palestinians to repair some of the physical damage from the war. However, of the nearly 3,500 homes destroyed, fewer than 500 have been rebuilt. Moreover, smuggling alone will never be sufficient to allow real and sustainable economic development in Gaza. Legitimate commerce must be facilitated to maintain economic linkages between the West Bank and Gaza and to ensure that Gaza can export freely to the outside world.
Finally, in addition to ending Gaza's physical and economic isolation, the conflict between Hamas and Fatah and the rift between the West Bank and Gaza must be addressed. The Palestinian factions have negotiated a series of reconciliation agreements, many under Egyptian auspices, since 2006. An accord signed in Cairo in May 2012 laid out a roadmap designed to form a new unified government for the West Bank and Gaza and to oversee elections in December 2012. The Carter Center continues to monitor these developments closely, supporting the parties wherever possible.
The Carter Center believes that a principal obstacle to a viable two-state solution is the continued presence and expansion of Israeli settlements and outposts in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. A seemingly permanent infrastructure has emerged in the West Bank, characterized by a grid of settler-only roads, roadblocks, checkpoints, and the separation wall. Almost 40 percent of the West Bank has been absorbed by Israeli settlements and related infrastructure and other areas closed to Palestinians. The West Bank is home to 500,000 to 700,000 Israeli settlers living among 2.4 million Palestinians. The settlement grid cuts off Palestinian communities from each other and has had a devastating impact on the social and economic life of Palestinians in the West Bank.
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West Bank: 5,655 sq. km
Gaza: 365 sq. km
Total: 6,020 sq. km
West Bank: 2,785,366
(Figures do not include Israeli settlers in Palestinian areas.)
Population registered as refugees: 2,032,726
Intended seat of government: East Jerusalem
Population below poverty line: 25 percent (World Bank 2014 est.)
Life expectancy: West Bank: 76 years; Gaza: 75 years
Languages: Arabic, English, Hebrew
Religions: Muslim (Sunni), Christian
Ethnic groups: Palestinian Arab, other
Size: 20,770 square kilometers
Population: 7,817,174 within 1948 borders
(An additional 232,140 settlers reside in occupied East Jerusalem and Golan Heights.)
Population below poverty line: 22 percent
Life expectancy: 82 years
Languages: Hebrew (official), Arabic, English
Religions: Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Druze, other
Jewish 75% (of which Israel-born 74.4%, Europe/America/Oceania-born 17.4%, Africa-born 5.1%, Asia-born 3.1%), non-Jewish 25% (mostly Arab) (2013 est.)