November 2, 2009
Our goal in visiting the Arab nations was to describe work of The Carter Center and seek financial assistance for our health programs in Africa. At each stop, our hosts were also quite interested in our efforts to promote peace between Israel and its neighbors. Since I had met recently with leaders in Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt and also with both Fatah and Hamas in the West Bank, Gaza, and Syria, it was possible to answer most of their questions. Having received a briefing from U.S. government officials shortly before leaving home, I was able to explain and attempt to promote our nation's policy.
In every case, there was gratitude for President Obama's statements in his addresses in Cairo and to the U.N. General Assembly, an inclination to be patient in waiting for his specific actions in promoting peace, but growing concern and a desire to understand more clearly the reasons for delay in following through on his promise of a settlement freeze and the promulgation of a comprehensive peace proposal.
They were very interested in the recent birth of the "J" Street organization, which is committed to Israel and also peace, especially as its convention was being boycotted by the Israeli ambassador but addressed by U.S. National Security Advisor Jim Jones. They were surprised to learn of the large group of Jewish rabbis who are fasting each month on behalf of the Palestinians in Gaza.
We were successful in explaining our work and raising funds to support health programs, especially in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Oman. In our final meeting in Jeddah, the leaders of the Islamic Development Bank asked for more extended talks to explore partnerships in Africa. Dr. John Hardman, Nicole Kruse, and Curtis Kohlhaas extended their stay to explore this possibility while we proceeded to Egypt.
Hrair Balian and I had an extended briefing from Minister of Intelligence Omar Suleiman concerning Egypt's efforts to reconcile the Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah. The two groups were prepared to sign a proposed agreement on October 25, but U.S. officials asked that the process be delayed. The minister is also seeking to secure the release of Corporal Shalit in exchange for a large number of prisoners held by Israel. We discussed the results of my recent visits to the five other Arab nations.
We then met with Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the League of Arab States, and he outlined the common approach being taken by his member states toward the Middle East peace process. To summarize, they are all fully supportive of President Obama, waiting for some clear signals to come from Washington on next steps to be taken, doubtful about Israel's willingness to compromise on any substantive issue, but inclined to be patient with the process.
The next day I met with Foreign Minister Ahmed Ali Aboul Gheid, and later with President Hosni Mubarak. They reiterated their determination to press on with reconciliation efforts. Hrair Balian proceeded to Damascus to meet with Hamas leaders while I went to Amman to consult with King Abdullah II. He was distraught about Israeli provocations around the Temple Mount and confiscation and destruction of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. I decided to send a message to the White House expressing my concern about U.S. interruption of Egypt's effort to reconcile the Palestinian factions, and did so when I arrived in Istanbul for the semi-annual meeting of Elders.
Rosalynn and two grandchildren, Jeremy and Hugo, joined me there, with 11 other grandchildren of Elders, where one of our emphases was on global warming and its impact on future generations. We also discussed our future activities in the Middle East, Cyprus, Zimbabwe, Sudan, women's rights and other issues. We welcomed Martti Ahtisaari, former president of Finland, as a new member. Our next meeting will be in Johannesburg in May 2010. We returned home in Jeff Skoll's plane after a successful trip.