Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama: Recognize the State of Palestine

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter
Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter delivers a lecture on the eradication of the Guinea worm, at the House of Lords, February 3, London. Carter has called for Barack Obama to recognize the State of Palestine. Eddie Mullholland-WPA Pool/Getty

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, who brokered peace between Egypt and Israel at Camp David, has called on Barack Obama to recognize the State of Palestine (as the United Nations refers to the non-member observer state) before he leaves office in January.

Of the U.N.’s 193 members, 136—more than 70 percent—recognize the State of Palestine and the Palestinian push for an independent state. But the U.S., Israel and dozens of other nations do not, with many arguing that the recognition of a Palestinian entity can only come about through direct talks and agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The current U.S. government supports a two-state solution but Israeli ministers have suggested that the election of Donald Trump as the next president has dealt a huge blow to hopes of a Palestinian state. On the campaign trail, Trump pledged to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and called for continued Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Carter has now stepped into the debate with an op-ed for the New York Times on Monday.

“It has been President Obama’s aim to support a negotiated end to the conflict based on two states, living side by side in peace. That prospect is now in grave doubt,” he wrote. “I am convinced that the United States can still shape the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before a change in presidents, but time is very short.

“The simple but vital step this administration must take before its term expires on Jan. 20 is to grant American diplomatic recognition to the state of Palestine, as 137 countries have already done, and help it achieve full United Nations membership.”

Carter added that U.S. recognition of Palestinian hopes for a sovereign state, combined with a U.N. Security Council resolution “grounded in international law,” and U.N. membership for the Palestinians would assist future diplomatic efforts to seal a lasting peace agreement.

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The former president, who published a book on the conflict entitled Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid in 2006, warned that the prospect of peace is slowly slipping away from the Israelis and the Palestinians.

He said that Israeli moves in the West Bank, past the armistice lines marked before its capture of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War, are bringing both sides ever closer to a “one-state reality” where Israel would preside over more than four million Palestinians living in the two territories, as well as the Gaza Strip.

“Israel is building more and more settlements, displacing Palestinians and entrenching its occupation of Palestinian lands,” Carter writes in the New York Times. “Over 4.5 million Palestinians live in these occupied territories, but are not citizens of Israel. Most live largely under Israeli military rule, and do not vote in Israel’s national elections.”

He continued: “Meanwhile, about 600,000 Israeli settlers in Palestine enjoy the benefits of Israeli citizenship and laws. This process is hastening a one-state reality that could destroy Israeli democracy and will result in intensifying international condemnation of Israel.”

The last U.S.-brokered peace talks collapsed in April 2014 and Israel has rejected international initiatives proposed since, the most recent being the French plan to host an international peace conference in Paris. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that he is open to talking with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas but only bilaterally and without pre-conditions, such as the removal of settlers from the West Bank or the end of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank.