Transcript: Former President Jimmy Carter, 29 January 2009

Thom and President Carter discuss the situation in the Middle East and President Carter’s book “We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work“.

Thom Hartmann talks with Former President Jimmy Carter, 29 January 2009

[Thom Hartmann]: President Jimmy Carter. President Carter, Thom Hartmann here. It's great to have you back on our program.

[President Carter]: I'm glad to be back, and you have such a wide coverage and such a highly rated program. I'm always delighted to be with you.

[Thom Hartmann]: Well, thank you, thank you for your kind words, sir. You have been working much of your adult life, and certainly concerned with, as well as, particularly since your presidency, working to, I know it sounds clichéd, but to bring peace to the Holy Land. And this new book of yours, "We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work". I've spent a considerable amount of time with it and it seems to me not just a brilliant history and analysis of the situation, but also a very specific proposal of what can be done. Let's begin with the past. Do you want to give us a thumbnail overview of where we've got, how we've gotten to where we are?

[President Carter]: Well, in the first part of the book I outline everything that's happened, that's of significance now, since I was president. And that includes the presidencies down through President Reagan and George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton and George Bush Jr. And I point out what success they had and why they were not able to bring peace that Israel and its neighbors want.

The second thing I did was to point out what's happening right now in the Mid East region. And that includes the divisions between the Palestinians and the ineffective talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Also I quote some of the top leaders in Israel, including the incumbent Prime Minister, Olmert, who says they have got to comply with the basic formula that I outline in the book. That is, Israel withdrawing approximately to the pre-1967 borders, sharing Jerusalem, and that sort of thing.

And, of course, this new crisis has come along and Gaza has indicated again to everyone, Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs all over the world, and even to some Americans, that the time for action is now. I think the most important change that gives me encouragement is the new president that we have in Washington. They can't make any progress, really, on peace between Israel and its neighbors without an active involvement by the United States of America. And that means sitting at the negotiating table and putting forward proposals that both sides can see are fair. And the employment by Obama of George Mitchell as his special envoy is indeed an encouraging thing, because George Mitchell is probably the most highly qualified person in America to undertake this enormous responsibility. So I am very pleased at what's happening, and all of those things that I say confirm that what I say in the title of the book, "We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work", I believe it makes it even more fervently believed by me and the readers.

[Thom Hartmann]: Sir, at the end of the movie, "Charlie Wilson's War", a poignant, although they take a few liberties with the actual facts, but nonetheless a poignant point is made, that the United States was willing to provide hundreds of millions of dollars to fight a war in Afghanistan, but after the war was over and it became time to rebuild Afghanistan, Charlie Wilson was unable to get even a few million dollars to build schools and hospitals.

[President Carter]: That's true.

[Thom Hartmann]: In Gaza when we pushed them and pushed them to have Democratic elections, they elected the group that had been building schools and hospitals, and now, yesterday announced that they're paying 3,000 Euros to every family whose home was destroyed or damaged by the Israelis and Hamas. And how do we make the transition from Hamas winning the hearts and minds of Gazans and ultimately perhaps even residents of the West Bank, to that of Fatah, the more progressive group that has evolved out of the PLO or, for that matter, seeing Israel as an ally?

[President Carter]: Well, I know the Hamas leaders quite well. I've met with them a couple of times this past year, including last month, as a matter of fact, in Damascus. And they're quite willing to accept any agreement that's worked out between the Fatah leaders, that is Mahmoud Abbas, and Israel, provided that agreement is submitted to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in a referendum and approved. So that's a major step forward.

[Thom Hartmann]: That is.

[President Carter]: And that's what I was able to accomplish when I went over there last April. Also, Hamas is quite eager to have a permanent cease fire if the provision lines going into Gaza can be opened up so that people can have some food and water and medicine and fuel, just to have a meager existence. So I think that we have now within the Palestinian community, in Fatah and Hamas, a willingness to move towards a comprehensive peace settlement and unity between the two opposing Palestinian factions. That's on the agenda to be done, and I believe that with strong support and influence and pressure from the United States, we'll see it done.

[Thom Hartmann]: You talk in your book about the Demographic changes in the region and I'm wondering how is it possible that a state that simultaneously defines itself as democratic, which is a state defined by an idea, as the United States was arguably one of the first nations ever to do in history, and also defines itself by DNA, as most states historically have been defined, in this case the Jewish state, a genetically Jewish state. How to reconcile those things in the face of the demographic changes that are happening in the region?

[President Carter]: Well, I think that's another factor that I mentioned very briefly in my opening response to you. Israel is now acknowledging, as I spell out in the book, even quoting the top Israeli leaders in office right now, they see that the one state solution would be a catastrophe for Israel. That is, a one state solution means that there's only one nation between the Jordan border and the Mediterranean Sea. The reason that's is a catastrophe is it'll be the end of the Jewish State because at this moment there are more non-Jews living in that area than there are Jews and the Arab population is increasing very rapidly because they have a much higher birth rate.

And so, in the very near future, it won't be possible to have a Jewish state there unless you do one of two things, both of which are unacceptable to Israelis. That is, to have ethnic cleansing, to force Arabs to leave, Arabs, Muslims and Christians, or to have a nation within which you have two different voting rights; one people can vote and one the other ones can't vote.

[Thom Hartmann]: Apartheid, really.

[President Carter]: Apartheid, yes, and the Israelis don't want either one of those things, so that boils down to the fact that what I recommend in the book, that is, a two state solution, is the only avenue that will be acceptable just to Israelis, much less to Israel's neighbors.

[Thom Hartmann]: The last time you were on this program, a year and a half ago or so

, you had just published your book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid".

[President Carter]: Right.

[Thom Hartmann]: And in our conversation, and my reading the book, I actually read the book, I thought it was a brilliant analysis of the situation and the history of the situation, in many regards not unlike your current book, "We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land", and yet it seemed that there was this, well, it didn't just seem, it was fairly obvious, there was this explosion of, 'Oh my God, Jimmy Carter's an anti-Semite' type of reaction, that I was scratching my head, having read the book. I'm curious, your thoughts on the response to your last book and how you hope this book will not be similarly misperceived, or how it might be perceived in that context and what we all need to do to bring about peace in the Holy Land and keep this from being about Jimmy Carter or about, you know, some sloganeering in this situation?

[President Carter]: Well, there was just a small minority of Jewish Americans who condemned the book the last time.

[Thom Hartmann]: A lot of them were on talk radio.

[President Carter]: And the same ones in the last two days have condemned

George Mitchell because he's "neutral" between Israel and her neighbors and Abe Foxman is one who used to put full page ads in the New York Times accusing me of being an anti-Semite and being senile and being a liar and a plagiarist and so forth. But that was a very small minority. When I published the book it was in November. In December, for instance, I received 60-100 letters and 71% of those were favorable about the book and the majority of those who identified themselves as Jewish Americans said it's time somebody wrote a book like this because they need both sides to the issue.

So, I can't control what the organizations put in newspapers and that sort of thing, but it did seem that there was an outpouring of opposition. For instance, another thing, more recently, when I went over to Israel and to Egypt and Syria and Saudi Arabia and so forth in April and also met with Hamas, there was a public opinion poll in Israel that was published also in the Washington Post saying that 64% of all the Israeli people believed that Israel should be negotiating directly with Hamas at this point. Everybody over there knows that you can't have a comprehensive peace in the Middle East without Hamas being involved, because Hamas governs one and a half million people in Gaza and Hamas has tremendous support even in the rest of the Palestinian area in the West Bank.

So, and Hamas and Fatah want to get together and form a united government. 87% of the Palestinians say so but Israel and the United States have been blocking that while Bush was in office, and my hope is, and my expectation is, that we'll soon see moves to make it possible for the Palestinians to have a united government that can negotiate in strength and carry out the provisions of any peace agreement that is reached.

[Thom Hartmann]: Finally, sir, we're speaking with President Jimmy Carter; his new book, "We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work". Joe Scarborough and Zbigniew Brzezinski mixed it up somewhat on Scarborough's program, a couple of weeks ago I guess it was, and the essence of it was that Brzezinski was correcting the historical record about the last years of your administration, that you were apparently very close to peace in the Middle East and that in some ways - this is my characterization, not Brzezinski's - but that the Reagan administration dropped the ball. Can you speak to that for a moment?

[President Carter]: Well, that's true. You know, we had two provisions that I negotiated with Begin and Sadat, one was a treaty between Israel and Egypt that was signed in the spring of 1979, exactly 30 years ago

. Not a word of that treaty has ever been violated since then. The other provision coming out of Camp David was that Israel agreed to comply with United Nations resolution 242 to withdraw their political and military forces from the West Bank and to have in effect Israelis living next door in peace to the Palestinians. That part of the Camp David accords under President Reagan were kind of abandoned and were not enforced and we've seen the deterioration since then. So I think, I didn't hear that program between Scarborough and Brzezinski, but I, Brzezinski knew what was happening because he was there side by side with me when we did those things.

[Thom Hartmann]: Any sense of why the Reagan administration would have dropped that ball?

[President Carter]: I think President Reagan just had other interests at that time, and I had a burning interest in the Mid East peace process from even before I was elected president. And I think he just had other priorities. I'm not criticizing him or any other president about what's happened since then. But you have to put the Mid East peace process at a top level of interest in your own administration, let the world know that's of interest, and that's exactly what President Obama has done this first few days of his term. The first telephone calls he made after he became president was to the Middle East, to the leaders over there. And his choice of George Mitchell shows that he has a deep and abiding interest in an active involvement by the United States in the Mid East peace process from the beginning of his administration, and that hasn't happened since I was in office.

[Thom Hartmann]: Agreed, and it's a great thing. Sir, any final thoughts or points that you wanted to make before we wrap this up?

[President Carter]: Well, I just think that anybody that wants to know the history and the present circumstances and the future in the Middle East will find it laid out in the book that I've just written. It's a very balanced book and it gives both sides of the issue and the main premise is that we've got to have peace for Israel to live side by side with their Arab neighbors without threat of attack, to be treated equally with all the other Arab countries, and in the process, you can't have peace in Israel without having peace and justice for the Palestinians.

[Thom Hartmann]: Yes, it is in essence a very pro-Israeli book as it is a very pro-Palestinian book. You're absolutely right. Very well said. President Jimmy Carter, his book, "We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work" by president Jimmy Carter. Sir, thank you so much for appearing on our program.

[President Carter]: Well, I've really been delighted to be with you, Thom, thank's a lot.

[Thom Hartmann]: Thank you.

Transcribed by Sue Nethercott.

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