In Jerusalem, Carter Derides Netanyahu and Obama
JERUSALEM — Three decades after leaving the White House, former President Jimmy Carter still functions inside the trappings of power, cruising through fiercely contested areas of this city on Monday in a 12-car motorcade, with Secret Service agents stationed strategically as he surveyed the view from the Mount of Olives.
But at 88, Mr. Carter, trying to nudge his agenda without an official platform, no longer filters his words for politics or diplomacy. On Monday, he ramped up his years of criticism of Israeli policy by saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lacked the courage of his predecessors and that he had abandoned the two-state solution that has been the accepted framework for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades. And just two weeks before the American election, he was almost as critical of President Obama, saying his administration has shirked the historical role played by the United States in the region.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that Netanyahu has decided the one-state option is the one he’s going to pursue,” Mr. Carter said, despite Mr. Netanyahu’s professed commitment to two states, notably in a 2009 speech at Bar Ilan University.
As for Mr. Obama, a fellow Democrat, the former president said, “The U.S. government policy the last two to three years has basically been a rapid withdrawal from any kind of controversy.”
He added: “Every president has been a very powerful factor here in advocating this two-state solution. That is now not apparent.”
Mr. Carter was here with the former prime minister of Norway, Gro Harlem Brundtland, and the former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, on behalf of the Elders, a group of 10 left-leaning éminences grises convened by Nelson Mandela in 2007 that aims to promote human rights and world peace by, according to its Web site, “speaking difficult truths and tackling taboos.” Mr. Carter and Ms. Brundtland met with President Shimon Peres ofIsrael on Sunday, and all three met with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority on Monday, consulting in between with like-minded Palestinian and Israeli intellectuals. On Wednesday, they are scheduled to see Egypt’s new Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi.
A born-again Christian who served a single term as president from 1977 to 1981, Mr. Carter said he has been to Israel and the Palestinian territories about 30 times. He recalled swimming in the Dead Sea on his first visit, in 1973, and noted that there were then about 1,500 Jewish settlers in the West Bank, compared with the 350,000 living there now. And he has long been an outspoken critic of Israeli policy, particularly in his 2006 book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”
But Mr. Carter said Monday that the situation is “worse now than it’s ever been for the Palestinians” because of the expanding settlements and lack of prospects for change. Describing himself as “grieved, disgusted and angry,” he said the two-state solution is “in death throes,” which he called “a tragic new development that the world is kind of ignoring.”
Surveys show Palestinians and Israelis overwhelmingly support a two-state solution, but intellectuals on both sides have increasingly been talking about a binational, single state. But models for such a state generally either imagine Israel losing its Jewish character, or ruling over a Palestinian majority in an undemocratic way. Mr. Carter called the one-state option “a catastrophe — not for the Palestinians, for Israel.”
As Ray Dolphin of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs pointed out Jewish homes in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, and Hagit Ofran of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch Project described Israel’s tourism development around the Old City, Mr. Carter seemed to have heard it all before. When Ms. Ofran said “there are more powers fighting” against Israel’s policies, he shook his head.
“The United States used to be major obstacle to Israeli expansion — now the United States is quite dormant,” he said. “I don’t really detect the forces. They’re not in Europe. They’re not in the United States. They’re not in the Arab world.”
On Sunday evening, he convened a dinner with Avraham Burg, a former member of Parliament now running a liberal research group; Mahdi Abdul Hadi, the head of a leading Palestinian research group; Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian official in charge of international relations; and Alon Liel, a former Israeli ambassador to Turkey and South Africa.
Mr. Burg said Mr. Carter dominated the three-hour conversation and displayed impeccable knowledge of the intricacies of the situation. Mr. Abdul Hadi said the former president urged the Palestinians to follow through on their bid for statehood at the United Nations — a move the Obama administration opposes — and to reconcile the rift between the Fatah faction, which dominates in the West Bank, and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.
“This is important, to get the Israeli and Palestinian intelligentsia to think out loud and not to carry on the rhetoric and the slogans, to do something,” Mr. Abdul Hadi said. “Call it Carter’s wake-up call in Jerusalem. The question: Is he meeting Netanyahu?”
No. Mr. Carter said the Elders had in the past been turned down for meetings even with members of Mr. Netanyahu’s cabinet. When he last spoke with Mr. Netanyahu — Mr. Carter could not remember whether it was around the 1999 funeral of Jordan’s King Hussein or the 1995 memorial for Yitzhak Rabin, the assassinated Israeli prime minister — “he said I had betrayed Israel by giving Egypt the Sinai Desert,” recalled the former president, who arbitrated the 1979 Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Mr. Netanyahu, said the prime minister denied that such a conversation took place. Mr. Regev pointed to Mr. Netanyahu’s 2009 speech calling for two states and said he “has repeatedly expressed his readiness for direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks without any preconditions whatsoever in order to advance that goal.”
“Those who want to see peace advanced should be asking the Palestinian leadership why they continue to boycott the negotiations,” he said in a statement. “The prime minister has consistently initiated confidence-building measures,” he added, citing the reduction of roadblocks, the advancement of funds and the issuance of work permits, among other measures.
But Mr. Carter blamed Mr. Netanyahu for the stalemate.
“I’ve known every prime minister since Golda Meir,” he said, ticking off experiences with Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak. “All the previous prime ministers have been so courageous in their own way. In the past, all committed to the two states.
“It looks to me like a decision has been made,” he added, “to go to the one-state solution but to conceal it from the world.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: October 26, 2012
An article on Tuesday about former President Jimmy Carter’s criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and of President Obama for what Mr. Carter said was their abandonment of active support for a two-state solution to resolve the differences between Israel and the Palestinians misidentified the year in which Mr. Carter’s book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” was published. It was 2006, not 2007.