Sunday, 14 June 2009
Carter Bombshell: 'West Bank Settlements Will Stay'
Written by Matthew Kalman
The Media Line: Sunday, June 14, 2009
Jimmy Carter has surprised Israelis and shocked Palestinians by declaring that one of the largest blocs of Israeli West Bank settlements should remain under Israeli control.
Carter, who is on a week-long visit to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, made the comments during a visit to the settlement of Neve Daniel near Bethlehem. The settlement is part of the Etzion Bloc, one of the largest Israeli enclaves on road between Bethlehem and Hebron and home to more than 15,000 Israelis.
The enclave was under Jewish control prior to the founding of Israel in 1948 and was lost to Arab control during fierce fighting in Israel’s war of independence. It was resettled after Israel regained control of the area in the 1967 war and is one of several areas that most Israelis would like to become absorbed into their country in any peace deal with the Palestinians.
“This particular settlement area is not one that I envision ever being abandoned or changed over into Palestinian territory,” said Carter as he emerged from a meeting with Shaul Goldstein, head of the Etzion Bloc Regional Council.
“This is part of the Gush settlement to the 1967 line that I think will be here for ever,” Carter told reporters in the garden of Goldstein’s home in the tiny hilltop settlement of Neve Daniel.
“I have been very fortunate this afternoon in learning a perspective that I didn’t have,” said Carter.
The former president caused uproar among Israel’s supporters when he titled his last book “Israel: Peace or Apartheid.” On Saturday he was honored by Palestinian leaders in Ramallah who applauded his longstanding commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
‘Saib ‘Ariqat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, said Carter’s comments were unacceptable.
“I cannot accept anyone prejudging and preempting the issues that are reserved for permanent status negotiations,” ‘Ariqat told The Media Line.
“The negotiations are between Palestinians and Israelis and it’s not for anyone to decide. Our position is that all settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal,” he said.
“In accordance with international law settlements are illegal and they are obstructing peace,” he added.
The Obama Administration has demanded a complete freeze in settlement construction by Israel on the West Bank, but Israel says it needs to expand its communities there in line with their “natural growth.”
“I hope that in the future we’ll see accommodation between Israel and the United States and between Israel and the people of Palestine in signing peace with a mutual respect for one another and mutual security on both sides,” Carter said.
“The most important element in my life in the last 30 years has been to bring peace to the people of Israel – and security. With that obviously will have to come peace and security for Israel’s neighbors. That’s the purpose of my even coming here,” he said.
As US president in 1978, Carter helped seal the Camp David peace accords that brought about the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. That treaty ended decades of wars between the two countries and has remained intact despite regional tensions and mutual differences over policy towards the Palestinians.
Carter also met with bereaved Israelis who had lost family members in terrorist attacks in the area.
“I came to learn,” the former president said. “I’ve done more listening than I have talking this afternoon. The listening has been very valuable to me.”
Shaul Goldstein described the meeting with Carter as “very important.”
“He came here and saw things he never knew of before. He said that he wants to see more world leaders visit the settlements and hear what settlers have to say to truly understand what is going on here,” said Goldstein.