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Trip Report by Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, and Germany, Oct. 20-Nov. 3, 2012

November 7, 2012

Meeting of The Elders, Carter Center events, peace conference in Germany

I arrived at the American Colony Hotel in E. Jerusalem, where I was joined by Elders Mary Robinson and Gro Brundtland. We had decided to go to the MidEast early so we could meet with Arab leaders before the rigid Islamic Eid holiday begins. Since none of Netanyahu's cabinet will meet with any of us Elders, we made a courtesy call on President Shimon Peres and listened to his broad-ranging comments on political theory, the problems of water, and ancient history when we asked questions about current events. He was especially evasive when we asked if Israel has abandoned the 2-state peace solution. Afterward, he issued a nice press statement.

We had supper with Avraham Burg, Alon Liel, Nabil Shaath, and Mahdi Abdul Hadi, representing peace advocates from both Palestine and Israel. We visited E. Jerusalem sites the next day, saw how Israel was confiscating more Palestinian property, and received updates on the situation in the West Bank. There is no doubt that Netanyahu has decided on the "Greater Israel" option, to create one "Jewish" state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea (although 20 percent of citizens now inside Israel are Christians and Muslims). We made statements to this effect, and pointed out that all previous PMs have worked with U.S. presidents on the premise of two states, even though it was unpopular among many Israelis. We visited the Augusta Victoria hospital, which is doing a superb job in providing care for Palestinians who have no facilities in Gaza or the West Bank for treating cancer, diabetes, or other serious illnesses. So far, they have resisted persistent Israeli efforts to limit their capabilities and delay patients' travel. In Ramallah, we visited our Carter Center office, had lunch with Hanan Ashrawi and Mohammed Shtayye, and then met with President Abu Mazen. The PLO leaders are in desperate financial straits, having just made half-salary payments to all workers for September. 55 percent of their payments go to Gaza, where Fatah "employees" do no work. The president assured us that he will go to the UN General Assembly in November to seek official observer status. This is being frantically opposed by Israel and the U.S., although a majority of governments already have official diplomatic relations with the PLO. The PLO may have to turn over police duties in the West Bank to Israel. We had a session with about 20 European ambassadors in which we urged them to support Palestinian rights (they personally agreed but their governments vary in policy). Europeans are considering labeling all products made in the settlements and sold through Israel as illegal.

We spent the night in Jordan, where The Carter Center is considering monitoring parliamentary elections, and continued to Cairo for all day meetings. We had briefings from the National Human Rights Council, the Constitutional drafting assembly, and two top advisors to the president (one, Prof. Sharkawy, a forceful and brilliant woman.) We then met with Ahmed El Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, and were joined by top Christian leaders. (One, Coptic Bishop Tawadros was later elected pope, as a blindfolded boy drew his name.) Tayeb is admired and appreciated by all as a powerful and moderate voice of Sunni Moslems. He gave us a booklet outlining Al-Azhar's vision of the Future of Egypt, which represents these concepts. After a press conference we met with women's organizations. During all our empty times we had press interviews.

The next day (Wednesday) we met with SG of the Arab League, Nabil Al-Arabi, where Lakhdar Brahimi joined us and made statements to the press re his proposals as UN negotiator regarding Syria. We then met with President Mohamed Morsi and were pleased that he departed from normal custom and spoke English with us. In effect, we confirmed that he agreed with the Al-Azhar moderate treatise, and he said he helped draft it and had signed it. As in my earlier meetings with him, he was frank, forceful, self-confident, and persuasive. Although he is under great pressures from all sides re the evolution of a new democratic government, it was good to see that his basic motivations are compatible with fundamental human rights values. He seemed determined to help with Palestinian reconciliation. We then had a "roundtable discussion" with about 40 Egyptian diplomats, each of whom made long talks that were ostensible questions. In the evening we went to the Opera House for a 90-minute live TV broadcast of Q&A exchanges with Egyptian young people, including the audience. They represented "Young Arabs Talk," a wide-ranging social media network that spans the entire region. They said proudly that they paid no attention to national borders on maps. Predictably, it ran overtime, but it was encouraging to see that no one was intimidated, with almost everyone waving their hands for recognition. That concluded another exhausting day.

Thursday was easier, with a series of media interviews and a luncheon hosted by the Irish ambassador for us with about a dozen other ambassadors. We spent most of the time answering their questions. I had a long discussion with Lakhdar re potential plans for Syria. A key unresolved problem is incompatibility among U.S., Russia, and China. One option that we at The Carter Center have long proposed might be an interim technocratic government being appointed by the UN (using Lakhdar's and Kofi's suggestions). During this time, parliamentary elections would be conducted with a large (10,000) UN security force maintaining order and with international monitoring of the election process. The parliament would then choose a new president with titular status (like Ireland or Israel). This obviously has a lot of problems, including with the U.S., which has blocked any solution that does not begin with Assad's removal from office, which many Syrians oppose. Lakhdar leaves tomorrow for Moscow and Beijing.

Other Elders joined us and we conducted our semi-annual 3-day meeting. We agreed to:

  1. Continue our concentration on the persistent and pernicious violation of international law and human rights being perpetrated by Israel in Palestine.
  2. Concentrate attention on Egypt and Syria, and monitor developments in the other nations involved in the "Arab awakening." Communicate to the international community the moderate and peaceful nature of the new Egyptian government, and encourage economic assistance. We will give Lakhdar whatever support he needs in his frustrating peace efforts in Syria.
  3. Promote the labeling of goods shipped by Israelis from the Palestinian areas. European Elders will publish an editorial on the subject and contact political leaders.
  4. Support the success of the Palestinians' effort to be given official observer status in the UN General Assembly. Perhaps hold a fourth Elders-Carter Center workshop with Palestinian leaders and MidEast experts to assess the situation after the vote.
  5. Continue to encourage reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, hopefully leading to an election throughout Palestine.
  6. Cooperate with "Young Arabs Talk," which comprises a social network of communication throughout the Arab nations, without regard to "borders on maps."
  7. Monitor the situation in Cote d'Ivoire, stay in touch with President Ouattarra, and follow Kofi Annan's guidance re a possible visit, since he is from neighboring Ghana and the two countries have a serious dispute over oil rights.
  8. Prepare for a possible visit to North Korea if an invitation is forthcoming.
  9. Help achieve a strong decision by the UN Human Rights Council concerning gross abuses in Sri Lanka.
  10. Continue to encourage Presidents Omar al Bashir and Salva Kiir to carry out the commitments made in Addis Ababa and proceed with resolving other outstanding issues. Join or convene a conference of Sudanese women in Addis in January 2013. Be prepared for another visit to Sudan if needed.
  11. Consider an advocacy (get-acquainted) visit either to India or China in 2013.
  12. Let Kofi and Graca Machel monitor developments in Zimbabwe and advise other Elders when action might be helpful.
  13. Plan for our 2013 regular meeting in Dublin next May.

Monday night I joined Sir Richard Branson in a presentation sponsored by Enigma magazine. He was introduced with video fanfare, answered questions about his secrets of success, then I joined him and answered questions about The Elders, MidEast, & Egypt. The next day Hrair Balian, Karin Ryan and I had meetings to plan our February Defenders' Conference on women's rights, and decided it should be a global (not American) affair and include a wide range of opinion among the speakers. In the afternoon we met with Judge Hossam al Geriany, who is chairman of the Constituent Assembly writing the new constitution. He assured us that all citizens will be treated the same (male, female, Moslem, Christian) and said the final draft will be presented to the public in about three weeks, with a month allowed for examination and debate before the referendum (which we will monitor). Two months later, a new parliament will be elected.

On my final day in Cairo I met with European ambassadors who have helped finance our election observations and are interested in the February Conference on Women's Rights, and had a chance to answer their questions about Israel, Palestine, and Egypt. Amr Mousa, former Foreign Minister and Secretary General of the Arab League, candidate for president, and now a member of the constitution drafting assembly came to discuss various issues. He sees a possibility of the assembly reconvening after the public debates to make some possible amendments to the constitution before the final vote. Arab League Secretary General El Araby came to discuss the Arab peace proposal made to Israel in 2002 and what might be done about its continuing rejection. Finally, I had an interview with Vision magazine about Arab helpfulness with Carter Center health programs during the past 25 years.

Thursday morning I met Lakhdar at the airport and then traveled to Germany where we had a conference in Bochum sponsored by Sascha Hellen. I first participated in an ecumenical religious service where a Palestinian Bishop gave the homily (reading from his iPad). Kindergarten children performed, and I was surprised to learn that in this Ruhr Valley community 50 percent of beginning students are from Muslim families (most from Turkey). I then joined Jehan Sadat, Hanan Ashrawi, and Nobel Laureates Lech Walesa and Iranian Ivrin Ebati in discussing "key global challenges." Germany's president and speaker of the parliament were there, as were the American ambassador and other U.S. officials. As was the case with all The Elders, conferees agreed that a key global problem is the Israeli violation of Palestinian rights and the obvious abandonment by Netanyahu and Lieberman of the two-state premise for a peace settlement. I quoted Prime Ministers Rabin, Peres, Sharon, Barak, and Olmert who described this as a catastrophe for Israel. This development has been made possible by the withdrawal of U.S. influence in the region during the past three years. There was prevailing doubt that President Obama will renew his call for 1967 borders or a settlement freeze, although polls show he is supported for reelection by 90 percent of Germans.

An exhausting but interesting trip.

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