CAIRO: Former US President and architect of the Camp David Accords Jimmy Carter said that Israeli violence against innocent Palestinians also constituted acts of terrorism akin to the firing of rockets into Southern Israel by Palestinian militants during a lecture he gave in Cairo Thursday evening.
“I’m not blaming one or the other but any act by Israelis or Palestinians that causes death of innocent civilians in my opinion, in my definition, is an act of terrorism, he said.
Carter was speaking at the American University in Cairo as part of a peace tour he is conducting in the region. The former American president also met with leaders of Hamas while in the Egyptian capital.
Responding to criticism by a student member of the audience that he was talking to “terrorists Carter responded, “Over a period of seven years 13 [Israeli] people have been killed which is bad, any person killed is bad and I consider that an act of terrorism because the rockets are fired not in physical combat with soldiers but likely to cause death among the civilians.
“At the same time if you look in Gaza, you know that for every Israeli killed in any kind of combat, between 30 and 40 Palestinians are killed because of the military capability of Israel with their pinpoint accuracy or missiles and their F-16s and their helicopters with which they can attack Palestinians, he continued.
However, Carter said, “The point is to not count 13 versus 800 . and my hope is there will be no more violence coming out of Gaza and that was my primary request to the Hamas leaders and I hope they will comply and if they do comply I hope Israel would not launch more attacks like they did yesterday [Wednesday] within which 21 people died. So if that conflict can stop then I will be pleased.
Carter, accompanied by his wife and son on the regional tour, spoke of his longstanding ties to the area and managed to chide his current successor George W. Bush at the same time.
“One of the most persistent interests of mine, to which I’ve devoted my most prayers and most thoughts, has been to help bring peace to the Middle East. Peace to Israel, peace and justice to all Israel’s neighbors. And therefore throughout the first few months of my administration – not leaving it to the last few days of my administration – I began to meet all the leaders of the region, he said.
Ever since the Camp David Accords were agreed to in 1978, he said, very little progress has been made. “The Israelis are still building settlements in Palestinian territory. Since the conference of Annapolis they’ve announced 9,000 new settlements.
It is the willingness of Carter to meet with Hamas which has garnered the most criticism on his latest visit, a visit in which he insisted he only represents himself.
“You can’t have an agreement that must involve certain parties unless you’re willing to talk to these parties while you conclude the agreement, he said. “To have peace in the Holy Land you must involve Hamas which won the election in January 2006. They have to be involved in some way in the final peace agreement.
“And also Syria because Israel is occupying the Golan Heights as everybody agrees, even the Israelis agree, Carter added. “[The United States and Israel] have laid down a rule – to which I consider myself immune – that you can’t go there and talk.
Carter would not divulge much of what was discussed with Hamas leaders – who included Mahmoud Zahar and Said Siam among others – at a Cairo hotel but he did shed some light on the talks.
The former American president asked the “leaders of Hamas, would they accept a proposition that if there is success between Abu Mazen and the Prime Minister of Israel and they reached an agreement on all the major issues, and if they were then submitted to a referendum of the Palestinian community and the Palestinians approved would Hamas accept that agreement and the answer was yes.
He also told them “that one of the worst things they did to themselves is to permit the launching of rockets towards Sderot and Ashkelan that caused the death of innocent people. I think that’s abominable and an act of terrorism.
Carter’s intentions were not without repercussions. “When I arrived at Israel as someone who had bought them peace with Egypt, I found that no member of the Israeli government would speak to me, Carter said.
He pointed out that Israeli people wanted peace, and that usually it was politicians who resisted the wishes of the people and described the current siege of Gaza as an “abomination.
Carter also spoke about the lack of debate within the US about the Middle East peace process as well as the fallout from his book ‘Palestine Peace not Apartheid’.
“The political arena of my country is almost a hundred percent supportive of the Israeli position and you never hear any debates on both sides. Most of the information is predicated on that sort of original premise, he said.
“The fact was that before [the book] there was no debate, of any kind, in the Congress or political circles or the news media about the Middle East peace process. And they hadn’t had a single day of peace talks in over six years. So at least my book did precipitate some discussion, some honest debate and some criticism because of the use of the word apartheid, Carter added.
He said, “I made clear that the word applied to what was happening in the Palestinian territory; or Palestine as I call it. And my definition of apartheid is this: it’s when two people occupy the same land when they are rigidly separated one from another, segregated. And when one of those parties completely dominates and persecutes the other and that is an exact description of what is happening in Palestine now. Carter also reminisced about the great friendship he had with late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat who was eventually assassinated partly because of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty.
Carter said, “When I was in the White House I believe I met 68 leaders of nations. The most courageous and admirable and noble and generous leader I ever met was Anwar Sadat. He was my friend. The only thing he ever called me was “my dear friend Jimmy. His wife and my wife were friends, his children and my children were friends, his grandchildren and my grandchildren were friends. So Anwar Sadat was my favorite leader in the entire world.
He also described their relationship as a “close friendship, almost brotherly love.
And in an echo of current bread shortages in Egypt, Carter talked about similar events in the 1970s.
He said, “What did we give him favorably for the Egyptians’ part in the peace process? When we were at Camp David and I knew that Sadat was helping me all he could, I asked him; what can the United States do for you and your people? He said we’ve had a very bad crop year; this is in the fall of 1978 and I would like to ask that the United States provide 120 thousand tons of wheat. And we gave it to him. That’s the only thing I promised Sadat.