Fmr. President Jimmy Carter on “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” Iraq, Greeting the Shah of Iran at the White House, Selling Weapons to Indonesia During the Occupation of East Timor, and More
Monday, September 10th, 2007http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07/09/10/1518224
In his first interview with Democracy Now!, former President Jimmy Carter talks about what led him to write “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid”, his controversial book that argues Israel’s settlements in the Occupied Territories are the main barrier to peace. Carter also discusses his regrets over sending arms to Indonesia during the occupation of East Timor and recounts his dealings with the Shah of Iran. The 39th president also assesses the Iraq war and reflects on the 25th anniversary of the Carter Center, which has focused on election monitoring and health initiatives around the world. [includes rush transcript - partial]
Today, a conversation with Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States. He served from 1977 to 1981. During his time in the White House, he helped negotiate the Camp David Accords, which secured a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt. After leaving office, Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, founded the Carter Center which - among other things - monitors elections around the world. In 2002, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Carter is also the author of over 20 books. His most recent is also his most controversial - "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." I sat down with former President Carter on Friday at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
- Former President Jimmy Carter. Thirty-ninth President of the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Today, a conversation with Jimmy Carter, the thirty-ninth President of the United States. He served from 1977 to 1981. During his time in the White House, he helped negotiate the Camp David Accords, which secured a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt.
After leaving office, Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn founded the Carter Center, which, among other things, monitors elections around the world. In 2002, Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
He is also the author of over twenty books -- his most recent, his most controversial: Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.
I sat down with former President Carter on Friday at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
AMY GOODMAN: President Carter, thank you very much for agreeing to this interview.
JIMMY CARTER: It’s a pleasure. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: And very interesting to be here at the Carter Center. You are celebrating twenty-five years of the Carter Center. You are unlike other presidents in what you have chosen to do in your post-presidential life. Can you talk about what you are proudest of, what the Center is and what you’ve been doing for this quarter of a century?
JIMMY CARTER: Well, the Carter Center’s work is really an extension of what I found to be of interest when I was president: to work on peace and human rights, environmental quality, alleviation of suffering, things of that kind. But it's been oriented much more heavily, of course, away from the Soviet Union, away from nuclear weapons, away from the Mideast peace talks, to dealing with the plight of the poorest and most destitute and suffering people on earth.
We now have programs in over seventy nations, and, not surprisingly, about half of them are in Africa. So we’re constantly in Africa. And we have had a basic policy of not duplicating what other people are doing satisfactorily. If the World Bank or World Health Organization or the US government or Harvard University is doing something, we don't get involved in it. We just fill vacuums in the world. So this has taken us into the jungles and in the desert areas of small villages around the world, particularly in Africa and Latin America.
So we deal with a large group of so-called “neglected diseases,” ones that are designated that way by the World Health Organization. They are not known by -- in the industrialized world, but they still afflict tens of millions of people in Africa and other places: onchocerciasis, lymphatic filariasis, dracunculiasis, trachoma, schistosomiasis, things of that kind. And we have here at the Carter Center the only International Task Force on Disease Eradication, where we analyze every human illness in the world and decide which ones might possibly be completely eradicated or eliminated from certain areas of the world. And we concentrate on those, working with a lot of other people, of course.
And we also have another program that relates to health, and that is nutrition. We have taught about eight million farm families in fifteen countries in Africa how to increase greatly their production of food grains. We don’t deal with cash crops like cotton, but just corn, wheat, rice, sorghum millet.
And while we are in the countries dealing with disease and agriculture, if that nation has a problem, say, attempting the first election to eliminate a dictatorship or a troubled democracy, then if they want us, let us come in, we go in and help hold an honest and fair election or sometimes negotiate a peace agreement. So that keeps us involved in many different aspects of life in the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you have any idea you were going to do this when you were president?
JIMMY CARTER: Well, I really expected to have a second term, as you may have surmised. But, no, I didn't have any idea about this. I wish I had when I was president. I would have been much more productive had I known as much as I know now, just a tenth as much, about what actually goes on among those families and in those little towns and villages that are so sadly neglected and so much in need.
AMY GOODMAN: If you had known, what you would have done differently?
JIMMY CARTER: I would have increased greatly my -- using my voice as president to publicize the plight of these people, and I would have been much for effective, I think, in inducing the Congress to appropriate foreign assistance money. And I would have used my leadership capability as President of the United States among other nations to increase a direct assistance to eradicate these diseases and to deal with their plight.
AMY GOODMAN: So how did you get into this afterwards?
JIMMY CARTER: Well, I kind of grew into it gradually, because at first my concept for the Carter Center was to create something like a miniature Camp David, where I would let people come here who had an ongoing war or threat of conflict, and I would negotiate back and forth and prevent a war, end a war. And I would also have gone to their countries had they wanted me to. We still do that on occasion, but that was what was my first dream of the Carter Center.
And it was only as years went by and we got to know these people and we saw that there was just a plethora of health afflictions that no one was addressing that the Carter Center decided to adopt this among these people. One example, for instance, was Guinea worm, which is an ancient disease, known in the Bible as probably the “fiery serpent” in the Bible. And we found that in 23,600 villages, all of which we visited now, by the way, there were three-and-a-half million cases of Guinea worm. And we have been in those villages and talked to the people, taught them how to do it, giving them some supplies, and now we've reduced that by 99.7%, and we’re down to the last few cases now. That’s the kind of thing that we do.
AMY GOODMAN: President Carter, I wanted to switch gears to talk about the raging controversy over your book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.
JIMMY CARTER: I didn’t know it was still raging, but that’s interesting.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, it raged for a while, and now the book is coming out on paperback with a new afterword. And you dealt with that, you talked about it being perhaps the most controversial thing that you’ve done, maybe, to your surprise. So, start with the title. Talk about the message you’re trying to put out with this book.
JIMMY CARTER: Well, the message is very clear. It deals with Palestine, not inside Israel itself, just the Palestinian Occupied Territories. And the second word is “peace.” I describe in this book the efforts for peace so far and my formula, which I think is very reasonable, for bringing peace to Israel and to Israel's neighbors. And I repeat that over and over with a strong condemnation of any kind of terrorism that afflicts innocent people by the actions of either the Palestinians or the Israelis.
And the word “apartheid” is exactly accurate. You know, this is an area that’s occupied by two powers. They are now completely separated. Palestinians can't even ride on the same roads that the Israelis have created or built in Palestinian territory. The Israelis never see a Palestinian, except the Israeli soldiers. The Palestinians never see an Israeli, except at a distance, except the Israeli soldiers. So within Palestinian territory, they are absolutely and totally separated, much worse than they were in South Africa, by the way. And the other thing is, the other definition of “apartheid” is, one side dominates the other. And the Israelis completely dominate the life of the Palestinian people.
AMY GOODMAN: Why don't Americans know what you have seen?
JIMMY CARTER: Americans don't want to know and many Israelis don't want to know what is going on inside Palestine. It's a terrible human rights persecution that far transcends what any outsider would imagine. And there are powerful political forces in America that prevent any objective analysis of the problem in the Holy Land. I think it’s accurate to say that not a single member of Congress with whom I’m familiar would possibly speak out and call for Israel to withdraw to their legal boundaries or to publicize the plight of the Palestinians or even to call publicly and repeatedly for good faith peace talks. There hasn't been a day of peace talks now in more than seven years. So this is a taboo subject. And I would say that if any member of Congress did speak out, as I’ve just described, they would probably not be back in the Congress the next term.
AMY GOODMAN: Who are these forces that you’re talking about?
JIMMY CARTER: Well, there’s an inherent commitment in America, which I share as a Christian, of a deep commitment to make sure that Israel is safe and that Israel is free and that they can seek for peace. So there's a strong inclination for all of us to support Israel's continued existence in peace. And that is added onto by the very effective work of the American Israeli group called AIPAC, which is performing its completely legitimate task of convincing Americans to support the policies of the Israeli government. And AIPAC is not dedicated to peace. They're dedicated to inducing the maximum support in America, in the White House, in the Congress and in the public media, for whatever policies the Israeli government has at a particular time. And they’re extremely effective.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you agree with Walt and Mearsheimer, their new book, The Israel Lobby, about the power of AIPAC determining US foreign policy?
JIMMY CARTER: I have to say I haven't read the book. I have read stories about it. I don’t really know about the details of it, but I do know that AIPAC is very powerful, and completely legitimate. I'm not complaining, because that’s their purpose in life. And AIPAC, I think, was organized in the distant past, I think, when Eisenhower was president. And they’ve grown in influence, and, in some ways, they have to be admired.
AMY GOODMAN: Did they influence you as president?
JIMMY CARTER: Not really, because I was immune from those pressures. When I was elected president, you know, I came out of nowhere. Nobody thought I was going to win until the last minute. And so, I wasn't obligated to them. And I worked assiduously almost every day of my term as president to bring peace to Israel and also peace to Israel's neighbors. And we negotiated a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, not a word of which has ever been violated. So I don't think there was any doubt that my commitment then and now was to see Israel have peace, living in harmony with its neighbors, and justice, as well, and peace for Israel's neighbors.
AMY GOODMAN: President Jimmy Carter, our conversation in Atlanta, Georgia. We'll come back to the second part of it in a minute.