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Jimmy Carter: President Obama Can Still Advance Israeli/Palestinian Peace

This op-ed by Jimmy Carter was published in USA Today.

Since the time of President Harry Truman, the United States has assisted Israel, including persistent efforts to forge peace agreements with her neighbors. Our government has also vetoed more than 30 U.N. Security Council resolutions that were critical of Israel, including many that were supported unanimously by all other Security Council members, and for several decades our support has included massive economic and military aid, amounting to about $8 million per day. This financial commitment is now being renewed, unless Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decides to wait and conclude the deal with the next president.

At the same time, the U.S. has joined Europe, the United Nations, the Arab League and almost all other nations in espousing basic principles relating to peace and justice in the region, including a two-state solution and opposition to Israel’s policy of occupying Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The future prospect for this preferred solution can be greatly enhanced if President Obama spells out its advantages before leaving office.

During peace talks at Camp David in 1978, much of our discussion was focused on Israel’s support of U.N. Resolution 242, adopted unanimously by the Security Council in November 1967 in the aftermath of the Six-Day War. The key phrase was reaffirmed by Prime Minister Menachem Begin in the final agreement: “The inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every state in the area can live in security.” In his 1990 memoir, former secretary of State Dean Rusk explained the U.S. interpretation: “We never contemplated any significant grant of territory to Israel as a result of the June 1967 war.” This has been the general policy of our country’s government and the world community since that time.

In June 2009, President Obama stated, "Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop."

In May 2011, President Obama expressed the official U.S. position on peace parameters: "The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states."

Recent Israeli strategy has been to postpone solution of the Palestinian issue and maintain the status quo, which has strengthened those who see this as an opportunity for one Jewish state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. This makes it impossible for Israel to be both a Jewish and a democratic state, and makes continuing violence inevitable. Under this policy, there have been three destructive wars in Gaza and a recent resurgence of Palestinian violence.

Although there is little prospect of a breakthrough during the remaining months of this administration, a clear statement of principles could have a lasting impact, enshrined in a U.N. Security Council resolution and based on the president’s previous statements and on recent assessments by Secretary of State John Kerry as he sought a peace agreement. It should cover the central issues in dispute, including the borders of a Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and Israel’s guaranteed security. It might include a reiteration of resolution 446, which was passed in 1979 when I was president and affirmed the applicability of the Geneva Conventions in the occupied territory. A specific timeline should be set for the delineation of borders between the two states, with the U.S. proposal on permanent borders being stated publicly, after being shared with both Israel and the Palestinians in private.

The Palestinian leadership is weak and divided, and its officers have had no democratic validation since 2006, when the last parliamentary elections were held. President Mahmoud Abbas' four-year term was supposed to have ended in January 2009, and elections were to be held. To encourage necessary reforms, the administration might also spell out preconditions for the U.S. government to recognize a Palestinian state (which 136 nations have done), including the unification of the Palestinian Authority, new elections and mutual Israeli-Palestine recognition.

Although Israelis and Palestinians are not likely to reach a peace agreement any time soon, such a declaration of U.S. policy, even near the end of a president’s term, could have a powerful and beneficial effect in Europe and elsewhere over prospects for a comprehensive peace agreement. It would at least help to keep options open.

Each side in the dispute could utilize its favorable aspects in its discourse, and other world leaders, especially from European and Arab nations, could build upon it to forge a constructive policy to bring peace to Israel and its neighbors.

Jimmy Carter, president of the United States from 1977 to 1981, received the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.

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