Former US president, in Silwan, demands division between east and west J’lem; Barkat says, "Biased third parties do more harm than good."
By MELANIE LIDMAN
Former US president Jimmy Carter and a delegation of influential international figures on a tour of the Middle East said they had “low expectations” for the current peace process on Thursday in Jerusalem, after meeting in the past week with leaders in Syria, Egypt, Gaza, Jordan, the West Bank and Israel.“There is little faith among Palestinian or Israelis over the peace process,” said Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner of Human Rights. In many of their conversations, she said, “We have come up against skepticism, a skepticism that is corrosive.RELATED:Rivlin tells Carter he is seen as Hamas supporterCarter: 'Palestinians living in a cage in Gaza'“We, The Elders, fear the possibility of two state solution may be fading away, and may be lost, because of what is happening in Jerusalem,” Robinson added.The Elders is the name of the group of world leaders who offer their “collective influence and experience” to support peace-building initiatives.The delegation also met with Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Thursday. Rivlin denounced the Elders’ meetings with Hamas leaders, including senior Hamas official Khaled Mashaal and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. He told Carter that Israelis see him as supporting Hamas.Robinson defended the group’s decision to meet with Hamas members.Advertisement“We did, as we have before, talk to those who are excluded at the moment from the peace process, because we feel it’s important that they feel encouraged in a non-violent way to be part of the process,” she told The Jerusalem Post. “We’re charged with the responsibility to listen to those who don’t normally get heard.”The Elders also advocated the division of Jerusalem during a tour of the city’s Silwan neighborhood.“We don’t have any authority, but we do have a voice,” Carter said, as he met with Arab residents in Silwan. “And we’ll ask them to continue working towards a peace and a division between east and west Jerusalem... because east Jerusalem should be a Palestinian capital only under Palestinian control.”Barkat slammed the suggestion.“No divided city in the world has ever succeeded,” he said in a statement. “In fact, I asked the Elders how they can celebrate the reunification of Berlin while at the same time advocate the division of Jerusalem. It is the ultimate inconsistency.”The Elders group was founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007. This is members’ second visit to the region, following a shorter visit in August 2009.The Middle East delegation included Carter; Robinson; Ela Bhatt, a women’s rights activist in India, and Lakhdar Brahimi, an Algerian independence fighter and politician. Brahimi did not join in the Jerusalem portion of the tour. Other Elders include Kofi Annan, Desmond Tutu and honorary member Aung An Suu Kyi.In Syria on Tuesday, Carter called for Israel to lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip.The delegation also condemned a number of local initiatives, including the mayor’s King’s Garden plan for the redevelopment of Silwan’s Al-Bustan neighborhood and the loyalty oath.During the tour of Silwan, the delegation spoke with Aida Rishek, a mother of seven who said she lives in fear of eviction because of the King’s Garden Plan.But the municipality claims that Rishek does not face eviction. “Aida Rishek is a perfect example of the type of resident who will be able to become legalized under the new plan,” said the mayor’s spokesman, Elie Isaacson.The King’s Garden plan calls for retroactively legalizing 66 buildings in the Al-Bustan neighborhood and demolishing and rebuilding 22 buildings in the same neighborhood.When pressed about Silwan, Robinson denounced the use of violence, but stopped short of condemning the youths involved in a recent upsurge in stone throwing incidents in Silwan and east Jerusalem. In the past month, youths have been responsible for daily rock throwing episodes in east Jerusalem and Silwan in particular.“I condemn violent acts. I don’t condemn non-violent resistance,” she told the Post.She blamed the stone throwing on the harassment by private security forces guarding Jewish residences in the predominantly Arab neighborhood.“My people, the Irish people, struggled for nonviolent resistance,” she said. “I believe there is a right to resist where the power is on the other side and your story is that you’re occupied.”Carter spoke about the Elders’ efforts to reach captured soldier Gilad Schalit and said Hamas officials are “very glad” that a German negotiator has returned to the scene, despite remaining disagreements over the official list of prisoners to be released or deportation orders for released prisoners.“They claim to be very eager to have an agreement,” he said.Carter said it has been his personal mission for the past 35 years to bring peace to the region. An independent group like the Elders can be effective in the region because it is not a government movement, he explained.“We don’t have constituents to answer to, and we’re not looking for public office,” Carter said. “We can go and meet with some people who our own governments won’t meet.”But Barkat remained skeptical about the usefulness of the group.“It is clear to me that involvement of biased third parties in the peace process does more damage than good,” he said after meeting the Elders on Thursday. “It pressures both sides to rush into a bad deal.”