Jimmy Carter on Israel, Iran, Barack Obama and the Chances for Middle East Peace

The former president speaks with U.S. News about his plan for peace in the Middle East.


In the newly published We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work, former President Jimmy Carter outlines a policy proposal for the Obama administration and argues that now is the time for Middle East peace. The 39th president spoke with U.S. News about his latest book, the controversy surrounding one of his previous books, the recent Israeli elections, and more. Excerpts:

You've written a number of books on the Middle East. What will surprise readers familiar with your previous books?

The simplicity of the agreement that almost has to be worked out between Israel and the Palestinians to bring peace that both people want, and the need for a strong hand from Washington to help make it possible. Do you think that President Obama should read your book?

Well, he has, I believe—I gave him a copy. In fact, I gave him the first copy of the book I had. The one that the editors or the publishers sent me early. I read it over to make sure there were no errors in it, and I gave him the only copy I had the night I met with him, which was before the five presidents had lunch together. Did he say anything about it?

He said he was going to read it, and he thanked me for bringing it to him. And I gave him a written summary of the main points in the book—just a couple of pages that I typed. Have you met with President Obama since then?

Well, I met with him the next day when the five presidents had lunch together. And I met with him again on Inauguration Day. I was going to meet with him earlier in the fall, but I went over to meet with the leaders in Lebanon and Syria in December, and he asked me to wait until after I got back from that trip before we had a meeting. So, that's why we met the first week in January. What was the outcome of that meeting?

It's not proper to describe what he said or I said. But I gave him a rundown of what I had been doing over the previous 12 months or so, and I would say we spent about half the time concentrating on the Middle East trip.

In what ways is your new book a response to the controversy regarding the title of your previous book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid?

It's just a natural follow-up. There's no need to insert division or a contradiction between them. The first take was completely balanced. It was fair. It was a report about what needed to be done about a Palestinian issue inside the West Bank and Gaza. It was strictly limited to that and on the plight of the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. But the word apartheid was taken out of context, in my opinion, and emphasized excessively by people that criticized the title. How would you describe your feelings about the controversy that generated?

I knew there was going to be some debate or controversy aroused by the use of the word apartheid in the title, which is an accurate description of what's going on in Palestine. The book is about Palestine, not Israel. But I didn't equate, ever, apartheid and what's going on in Palestine with South Africa. I define what apartheid means—it means when two people occupy the same land and they are forcefully segregated, one from another, and one people dominates the other. That's the definition of apartheid. But I do point out in this book that one of the reasons I think it's time for this two-state solution to prevail is because many Israelis, many of whom I quote in this book, strongly condemn any possibility of a one-state solution. How do we draw the line between bad actors acceptable to negotiate with and the bad actors that aren't? Should there be a line drawn at all?

Yes, there should be a line drawn. I went over [to North Korea in 1994] and negotiated with Kim Il Sung, whom I had despised when I was a submarine officer in the Pacific Fleet during the Korean War. He was a military dictator of North Korea. But in order to prevent a greater war between North Korea and South Korea, I went over and negotiated successfully with him to resolve the nuclear issue at that time and turned over the results of my negotiation to Bill Clinton, who adopted all my agreements as national policy. Obama has said that he would open up communication with Iran. And, of course, there's no way to have peace between, among the Palestinians without including Hamas.