Though not the most popular figure in Israel, due to his advocacy for Palestinian statehood based on Israeli withdrawal from most of the territories captured in the Six Day War, former US president Jimmy Carter continues to return in the hope of being a pivotal figure in a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians, as he was between Jerusalem and Cairo 33 years ago.

Carter, accompanied by former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, called on President Shimon Peres on Sunday in the course of a visit to Jerusalem, the West Bank and Cairo.

The two visitors expect to be joined on Monday by former Irish president Mary Robinson. The three are part of The Elders, an independent group of 10 global leaders, who were brought together in 2007 by former South African president Nelson Mandela to work for human rights and world peace. Current chairman of the Elders is Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu, while Mandela still offers his opinion, but is not an active member.

The Elders are in Israel to voice their concern about what they consider to be the “imperiled” two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly in light of Israel’s refusal to halt settlement expansion. The Elders last visited Israel and the West Bank in October 2010, when they also visited Gaza. They also visited Israel and the West Bank in 2009.

Though known as The Elders, not all its members have reached the proverbial three score and ten. Robinson is only 68, while Brundtland is 72. Carter, 88, is 14 months younger than Peres, 89, almost to the day. Peres was born on August 2, 1923, whereas Carter was born on October 1, 1924.

Carter entered the reception room at the President’s Residence with a cheery “Hello everybody” to the media, while Brundtland greeted the press corps in a more restrained fashion.

Peres and Carter, whose relations spans more than three decades, fell into each other’s arms in a warm embrace. “Jimmy, how are you?” Peres said with undisguised pleasure. Then turning to Brundtland, whom he has also known for many years, Peres told her that she looked great.

Carter said that he was delighted to be with Peres again because he greatly admired him as both a peacemaker and a dear friend.

The Elders are very concerned at the lack of recent progress in the peace process but have not given up hope, Carter said. They want to assess for themselves following talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders as well as with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi whether a two-state solution is still viable and whether another solution should be proposed and examined.

If it is going to be a one-state solution, said Carter, the international community will have to take a different attitude than it has taken to date.

Carter said that he has had frequent meetings with Morsi over the past six to eight months – both before the latter was nominated for president and following his election, and had impressed on him that he must keep all the conditions of the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. Morsi agreed, although he did want to make amendments. Carter told him that he could not make any amendments without Israel’s agreement, and expressed confidence that Morsi understood that.

So far, Carter said, Morsi has abided by all the conditions of the treaty.

Brundtland recalled having first met Peres in 1979 when she came to Israel as the young deputy leader of the Norwegian Labor Party. At that time, Peres and Yitzhak Rabin were contesting the Labor Party leadership – and Peres won. Brundtland said she had a long history of watching Israel. Peres and noted that almost 20 years had passed since the signing of the Oslo Accords, but regretted that the principles expressed in the accords had not been pursued in the way that they should.

Peres said that in Israel one doesn’t talk about elders without saying responsible elders. He commended Carter for acting responsibly in accordance with his perspective of the situation. Acknowledging differences of opinion between Carter and the Israeli leadership, Peres said that without Carter the peace treaty with Egypt would never have become a reality, and that this transcends all other considerations.

Peres also had positive things to say about Brundtland’s “sharp and honest judgment.”

Looking back to another era, Peres said: “Before the peace treaty with Egypt, before the peace treaty with Jordan, before the peace process with the Palestinians, people were almost desperate and didn’t know what would happen.” What was regarded as an impossible, project, he continued, became a fact of life.

“What is important is to keep the peace achievement intact,” he said, adding that peace with the Palestinians should once again become a major issue on the Israeli agenda.

Carter was curious about Israel’s upcoming elections, the outcome of which may affect, one way or another, the peace process.

Carter was due to travel to Ramallah on Monday for a lunchtime meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and on his return to Jerusalem to conduct a media conference at the American Colony Hotel.

After that the Elders will fly to Cairo.

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