Veteran Palestinian Authority lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi, who represents PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad's Third-Wave party, defended both Hamas and Hizbullah in a speech at Emory University in Atlanta on Monday night. "The [Second Lebanon] War proved [Israel] could not defeat a nation fighting for freedom," Ashrawi said. Later, the Christian lawmaker blamed Hamas's January 2006 election victory on Israel, saying the occupation bred extremism. Ashrawi also discussed the plight of the Palestinian people, saying they had plunged into a deep depression with unemployment and poverty at record levels, and that peace was the only answer. Palestinians are experiencing "one of the most difficult phases in our history," she said. "Violence and [the] extreme ideology of Israel feed violence and extremism on the other side. And that's what led to the election of Hamas." "Now we see not just a political and economic battle, but a battle over the soul of Palestine," she told an audience of about 200. "We find ourselves in the grip of... the deconstruction of Palestine." Nearly 75 percent of Gazans were dependent on welfare and the Strip's unemployment rate had skyrocketed to 50%, she said, adding that conditions there had worsened since Hamas seized power in June. Ashrawi's lecture was part of a series of speeches on the Emory campus focusing on peace-building in wartorn regions. One of the more controversial talks was by former US president Jimmy Carter, who spoke about his much-criticized book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. The book was condemned by many for comparing Israeli actions to the oppression of blacks under South Africa's apartheid regime. Ashrawi praised Carter as a "prophet" and a "man of conscience," and one of a dwindling number of people who still believed peace was possible in the Middle East. She said peace talks must be moved forward rather than waiting for the violence to subside. "You cannot hold peace hostage and say, 'Until every single Palestinian becomes peaceful, I'm not going to have talks,'" Ashrawi said. "You have to talk in order to bring about peace." The United States plans to host a conference in late November or early December to relaunch Israeli-Palestinian talks. US officials have engaged in a flurry of diplomatic activity in recent weeks aiming to push Israel and the Palestinians toward consensus on the substance of the conference's joint declaration, which would outline a way for the sides to return to the negotiating table. AP contributed to this report.