Jimmy Carter: 'Start Early' For Peace In Mideast The former president expressed confidence that if peace talks are held soon, they will be meaningful. Nearly 30 years after he brokered a treaty between Israel and Egypt, Carter has written a new book about his quest for peace in the Middle East.
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Jimmy Carter: 'Start Early' For Peace In Mideast

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Jimmy Carter: 'Start Early' For Peace In Mideast

Jimmy Carter: 'Start Early' For Peace In Mideast

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It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm Renee Montagne. With his administration barely a week old, President Obama has given an interview to Arab TV, Al Arabiya. And in recent weeks on this program, we've been hearing from politicians and intellectuals on the prospects, however dim, for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Today, we hear from a man who mediated peace between Israel and Egypt three decades ago, former President Jimmy Carter. More recently, he caused a stir, a controversy, with his book called "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." This week, he's out with another book, "We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work." That's the title. And I asked him, why this new book just two years after the other one?

Former President JIMMY CARTER: So much has happened since then. First of all, and I didn't anticipate it, although I hoped for it while I was writing the book - it was finished in November - that President Obama would be in office, and that we would have a balanced and aggressive commitment to bring peace. That's quite a change. Secondly, that there would be a move that Hamas could be accepting a peace agreement that would be negotiated.

I went to meet with the Palestinians on all sides last April ,and again in December. For the first time, the Hamas leaders pledged that they would accept any peace agreement negotiated between the Palestinian leader - that is, Mahmoud Abbas - and Israel, provided that same peace agreement was submitted to the Palestinians in a referendum, which is very good. And third, I think the seeing of the evolving tragedy since Gaza was destroyed as another element of urgency to bringing peace to Israel.

MONTAGNE: President Carter, the subtitle of your book is "A Plan That Will Work." What makes this plan that's in your book different from the two-state solution that American administrations have been promoting in some form for years?

Former President CARTER: There's no difference. In a two-state solution, the basic framework is to recognize Israel and Israel's right to exist and live in peace within its pre-1967 borders. And these '67 borders can be modified through goodfaith negotiations. By the way, that's also what's been espoused most recently by the prime minister of Israel at this moment. That is Ehud Olmert, who says we have got to withdraw from the West Bank; we have got to let Palestinians return to Palestine; and we've got to share Jerusalem with them.

But there are two very difficult things. One is, Israel so far has not been willing to withdraw from Palestine, that is, from the West Bank. And secondly, the Palestinians will have to accept the proposition that all - a flood of Palestinians cannot return inside Israel. They'll have to return, I would say, into the West Bank and Gaza - not into Israel - and be compensated, those that can't return. So a two-state solution is the only logical plan, and that's what I spell out in the book.

MONTAGNE: And of course, again, the key is getting there. One thing you have urged by way of moving forward is engagement with Hamas.

Former President CARTER: Yes.

MONTAGNE: And the one big question that is always asked is, what form could that engagement possibly take, given that the long-term goal of Hamas is to eliminate Israel, and that it's been labeled a terrorist organization?

Former President CARTER: Well, it's labeled that by some people. That's correct. But Hamas has agreed with me, and publicly, that they will accept Israel's right to exist and to live in peace. They'd forgo the commitment to recognize Israel diplomatically because Israel is not prepared to recognize a Palestinian state. And they have also agreed that they will declare a 50-year hudna, or cease-fire, in both the West Bank and Gaza, and not abuse any Israeli civilians.

So I think that we have now an opportunity to move toward a two-state solution. And I think this new approach that has now been put forward by President Obama, based upon his choice of George Mitchell to be hisrepresentative for peace talks, I think holds good promise that something is going to be done.

MONTAGNE: President Obama pledged to help consolidate the cease-fire that now exists in Gaza, appointed George Mitchell as a special mediator. Do you think you'll have a role? And if you do, what will that role be?

Former President CARTER: No, I don't think I would have any sort of an official role, and I don't want any. I'm much more free if I just represent the court of center, which is all I ever represent. I've had two conversations with President Obama, and I've had two conversations with George Mitchell, even since he was chosen. And I think that they obviously get advice and counsel and information from many other sources.

But there's a turning point here in that President Obama, while he was a candidate, promised that he would start immediately when he came in office as president, to work aggressively on the solution for peace for Israel and her neighbors. This is quite different from what Bill Clinton did or George Bush did in their administrations, when they only turned to the Middle East aggressively - or somewhat aggressively, on the part of Bush - for the last year they were in office. But you have to start early. You have to do it when you have a lot of political clout in order to get anything done. And I believe so far, President Obama has proven that his promise was good.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Former President CARTER: I've enjoyed talking to you, as always.

MONTAGNE: Jimmy Carter was the 39th president of the United States. His new book is called "We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work."

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