Former US president Jimmy Carter
spoke on Monday at the sixth Herzliya Conference
, an annual gathering of influential Israeli and international leaders.
His speech focused on what he sees as the biggest obstacles to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Among the obstacles were the PA's
lack of control over violent Palestinian elements; West Bank settlements; and the necessity for the Arab world to accept Israel's
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Carter first visited Israel in 1972 before the Yom Kippur war
, and is currently in the region to observe Palestinian elections. After speaking at the Herzliya conference, he left to meet with Palestinian leaders, including PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas
The former president expressed hope that the upcoming elections would be peaceful and prove the Palestinian commitment to democracy, but added that Hamas
presented a serious threat to that possibility.
Carter concluded his speech to rounds of applause, saying that the peace process must be revitalized.
In a question-and-answer session following his speech, Carter noted that the PA's armed forces number 60,000 and urged Palestinians to use every means possible, including "direct military confrontation," against those in their community who advocate violence and "despicable" suicide bombings.
"Over time, I have seen despair and frustration evolve into progress," Carter said. Egypt
and the PA had also once called for Israel's destruction, he added, expressing hope that Hamas's election will lead to their "assumption of more moderate policies, which they must do."
Carter also spoke out against West Bank settlements.
"Some Israeli settlers consider their settlements sacrosanct," said Carter. The settlements, he said, are unsustainable in the long term due to the continual expansion of the Palestinian population and the Israeli uncooperativeness that they symbolize. "There is no doubt," he added, "that much of the anti-American sentiment in the Middle East is caused by failure to find a solution to the Palestinian problem."
Carter spoke of acceptance as a major prerequisite for peace: "All in the Arab world must make unmistakably clear through their own actions their acceptance of Israel, and Israel must accept a viable Palestinian state, in which Palestinians can determine their own state, on their own land, with dignity."
He said that the Israeli unilateralism demonstrated in the Gaza withdrawal, and indeed unilateralism in general, works against peace, underlining his point that Palestinians and Israelis must work "side-by-side."
Underscoring the necessity for east Jerusalem
and the West Bank to be part of a Palestinian state, Carter said that "Gaza is a nonviable economic and political entity." The creation of a Palestinian state which includes all of these territories is in Israel's interests too, he said, since the expanding Palestinian population will make it more and more difficult for Israel to maintain its current policies.
Carter also blasted the PA-run educational system. "I condemn very deeply any teaching of Palestinian children or college students that they should despise Israel, not recognize the legitimacy of Israel's existence, [and] not work with Israel side-by-side in peace."
The Herzliya conference has become a leading platform for Israeli leaders to articulate national policy. In the third Herzliya Conference, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
announced his support for the Road Map. One year later, he presented the unilateral disengagement plan at the Conference.