By Munir K. Nasser
Chief Correspondent, Washington, DC
Former US President Jimmy Carter warned that if Israel wants real peace, “there is no way to escape the vital choice: land or peace?”
In an article in the Washington Post, Carter wrote that it is “unlikely that real progress can be made as long as Israel insists on its settlement policy, illegal under international laws that are supported by the United States and all other nations.”
He said “the reason that years of US diplomacy have failed and violence in the Middle East persists is that some Israeli leaders continue to ‘create facts’ by building settlements in occupied territory.”
Carter said Israel’s “deliberate placement as islands or fortresses within Palestinian areas makes the settlers vulnerable to attack without massive military protection, frustrates Israelis who seek peace and at the same time prevents any Palestinian government from enjoying effective territorial integrity.”
Carter said it seems almost inevitable that the United States will initiate new peace efforts, but he explained that the major issues still to be resolved remain unchanged: the final boundaries of the state of Israel, the return of, or compensation for, Palestinians dislodged from their previous homes, and the status of Jerusalem.
Carter said at Camp David in September 1978, President Anwar Sadat and Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed a comprehensive and lasting treaty between Egypt and Israel, in which Israel agreement to remove its settlers from the Sinai. He added that similar constraints concerning the status of the West Bank and Gaza have not been honored by Israel, and have led to continuing confrontation and violence.
Carted noted that the foundation for all his proposals to Sadat and Begin was the official position of the government of the United States, based on international law that was mutually accepted by the United States, Egypt, Israel and other nations, and encapsulated in United Nations Security Council Resolution 242. “Our government's legal commitment to support this well-balanced resolution has not changed,” he wrote.
Carter stressed that Begin ultimately acknowledged the applicability of 242 "in all its parts," which emphasizes "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security." It requires the "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent  conflict" and the right of every state in the area "to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force."
Carter noted it was clear that “Israeli settlements in the occupied territories were a direct violation of this agreement and were, according to the long-stated American position, both illegal and an obstacle to peace." Accordingly, “Prime Minister Begin pledged that there would be no establishment of new settlements until after the final peace negotiations were completed. But later, under Likud pressure, he declined to honor this commitment, explaining that his presumption had been that all peace talks would be concluded within three months.”
Carter added that there were some notable provisions in the Camp David Accords that related to Palestinian autonomy and the occupation of land. A key element was that "the Israeli military government and its civilian administration will be withdrawn as soon as a self-governing authority has been freely elected by the inhabitants of these areas to replace the existing military government."
Carter revealed that it was decided early during the Camp David talks that it would be impossible to resolve the question of sovereignty over east Jerusalem, but proposed the following paragraph concerning the city, on which all parties reached full agreement:
"Jerusalem, the city of peace, is holy to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and all peoples must have free access to it and enjoy the free exercise of worship and the right to visit and transit to the holy places without distinction or discrimination. The holy places of each faith will be under the administration and control of their representatives. A municipal council representative of the
inhabitants of the city shall supervise essential functions in the city such as public utilities, public transportation, and tourism and shall ensure that each community can maintain its own cultural and educational institutions."
Carter said, however, at the last minute after several days of unanimous acceptance, both Sadat and Begin agreed that there were already enough controversial elements in the accords and requested that this paragraph, although still supported by both sides, be deleted from the final text. Instead, the two leaders exchanged letters, expressing the legal positions of their respective governments regarding the status of east Jerusalem. “They disagreed about sovereignty, of course, but affirmed that the city should be undivided,” said Carter.
According to Carter, both sides were informed that "the position of the United States on Jerusalem remains as stated by Ambassador Arthur Goldberg in the United Nations General Assembly on July 14, 1967, and subsequently by Ambassador Charles Yost in the United Nations Security Council on July 1, 1969. In effect, these statements considered east Jerusalem to be part of the occupied territories, along with the West Bank and Gaza.”
Carter said President Reagan addressed this issue on Sept. 1, 1982, and stated clearly that "the Camp David agreement remains the foundation of our policy," and his speech included the following declarations:
"The Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza will have full autonomy over their own affairs. The United States will not support the use of any additional land for the purpose of settlements during the transition period.”
Carter added that in 1991 there was a major confrontation between the governments of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and President George Bush concerning Israeli settlements in the West Bank, with U.S. threats of withholding financial aid if settlement activity continued. At the opening of the Madrid Conference, Secretary of State James Baker said, "When we negotiated with Israel, we negotiated on the basis of land for peace, on the basis of total withdrawal from territory in exchange for peaceful relations. This is exactly our position, and we wish it to be applied also in the negotiations between Israelis and Syrians, Israelis and Palestinians. We have not changed our position at all."
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)