Capital Club in Dubai, an old-style 'networking' club, which apparently "meets the demands of...those powering the region's growth." That was the venue for a wonderful afternoon today with former US President Jimmy Carter, organized by several Harvard alumni groups. A robust 86, Carter seems to be getting sharper with age, both in terms of insights and the forthrightness of his comments. The Carter Center is doing work across 75 countries around the world, and the President talked extensively about its projects around "disease eradication," particularly in Africa, as well as its activities in monitoring elections.
Yet, it was also increasingly clear that the prevailing passion for the President today is realizing a Mideast peace. Outlining his vision for a Palestinian state -- something that he had advocated during his Administration in the late 70s -- Carter was quite forceful about Israel: "I think every government in the world recognizes a two-state solution except Israel." He continued, "The persecution of Arabs in Israel, and of Palestinians in the West Bank, and worse in Gaza, I believe are international crimes." It was after all the Carter Center that observed and certified the 2006 parliamentary elections of Hamas, only to be slapped by the EU-US boycott of a truly democratically elected government; one of the first democratic transfers of power in the Arab world.
Carter's sense of abandonment on the issue can be traced back to the 1978 Camp David Agreement, of which there were two. The first was in fact a comprehensive framework for Middle East peace, which envisioned the return of occupied territories to the Palestinians. The second concerned a peace between Egypt and Israel. Only the second was truly adhered to, and both Israeli Prime Minister Begin and US President Reagan essentially walked away from the first track agreement regarding the Palestinians.
Today there's another young President with ambitions for fostering an overdue peace. In terms of advice for President Obama, Carter succinctly instructed: "Be courageous and do what's right." Hopefully he's listening.