This particular settlement area is not one I ever envision being abandoned or changed over into Palestinian territory."
He added that the Jewish communities in Gush Etzion are among a number of West Bank settlements "...that I think will be here forever." The former President also thanked the Gush Etzion residents he met with:
I recognize that their suffering is taking place in an area where strife and misunderstanding and animosity exists. I have been fortunate this afternoon in learning the perspective that I did not have. I explained to those listening of my long-time commitment to Israel. The most important element in my life in the last 30 years is to bring peace...
What makes this statement so important is the fact that it came from President Carter, a political leader widely considered to be strongly pro-Palestinian and who has wrongly compared Israeli policies to South African apartheid. I have been harshly critical of Mr. Carter in the past but this time he absolutely gets it right.
President Carter has come to the same realiztion that Presidents Clinton and Bush have reached: the 1949 armistice line, to so-called "pre-1967 borders" were never intended to be borders at all and simply are not defensible. Israel can never return to those "borders" and the intransigent Palestinian position of refusing to budge from the armistice line or engage in land swaps is a real obstacle to any hope of peace in the future.
Even the use of the term "settlements" is often inaccurate and misleading. Here is what I wrote about the history of the Etzion bloc in March, 2006:
Gush Etzion and pretty much the entire Etzion bloc were Jewish property and Jewish towns prior to 1948. Israeli forces had to evacuate the population when the Jordanian army conquered the area during Israel's 1948-49 War of Independence. Why does 19 years of illegal Jordanian occupation turn Israeli Jewish towns into colonies? Why was Jordan's occupation deemed somehow legitimate and Israel's subsequent control of the area for the next nearly 39 years somehow illegitimate?
The fact is that all "settlements" are not equal. They do not all have the same history and are not somehow stolen Palestinian land. President Clinton recognized this in regard to the Jewish community in Hebron as well. From the same March, 2006 piece:
...the Jewish community of Hebron lived for many centuries in peace with their Arab neighbors. It was only the violence incited by then Palestinian Arab leader Haj Amin al-Husseini, the British appointed Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and the subsequent Hebron massacre of 1929, that drove the Jewish community out. The "settlers" in Hebron have simply reclaimed homes and property that was Jewish for centuries and restored a community in a city that is holy to the Jewish people. Hebron is, after all, the site of the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the burial place of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. President Bill Clinton recognized this, proposing at Camp David in 2000 that Palestinians lease the Jewish enclaves in the city to the Jewish inhabitants and/or Israel indefinitely. His idealistic vision was one of Jews and Palestinian Arabs once again living together in peace. Does either the terrorism and slaughter of 1929 or the Jordanian occupation of Hebron from 1948 until 1967 negate the Jewish claims in the city and centuries of continued Jewish presence there?
Sadly it does not appear that President Obama understands this history in his call for a freeze to all settlement activity. If he was calling for no further expropriation of land from the Palestinian Arabs living in Judea and Samaria I'd agree with the President. If he was talking about not expanding settlements geographically I'd agree that such expansion would be damaging to any prospects for a meaningful peace process. That isn't what the President is talking about. He is opposed even to natural growth within Jewish towns and cities on land within those communities. President Obama is critical of Israel at a time when Israeli policies have allowed for negligible settlement growth or, in some cases, actual declines in population and as the Netanyahu government forcibly evacuates illegal outposts.
It is high time President Obama stops trying to determine the outcome of peace talks in advance at a time when the Palestinian leadership seems to have little or no interest in compromise or peace. It is particularly important that the President learns more of the history of the Jewish communities in question and comes to the same realizations that President Clinton, President Bush, and now even President Carter have come to. There are Jewish communities beyond the Green Line that are legal, legitimate, and here to stay.