Jimmy Carter: 'No Downside' To Palestinian Statehood

September 18, 2011

NPR Staff

John Thys
A Palestinian flag is raised in front of European Union headquarters in Brussels on Monday, September 12th. The Palestinians are expected to seek statehood at the United Nations next week.
Sara Saunders
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (left), U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin shake hands during the White House signing of the Middle East peace accord in March 1979.

Former President Jimmy Carter is urging the United States to not veto the UN Security Council vote for Palestinian statehood anticipated to take place next week.

"If I were president, I'd be very glad to see the Palestinians have a nation recognized by the United Nations," Carter tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered. "There's no downside to it."

Almost no downside, anyway. Carter admits that for President Obama, failure to veto "would have some adverse effects, perhaps, on his political future."

But it's a price worth paying, he says. Harry Truman backed the creation of Israel for moral reasons, Carter points out, against the advice of his inner circle. Today, Palestinian statehood is "a basic moral commitment" for the U.S.

In 1977, Carter became the first American president to call for the creation of a Palestinian homeland. He signed the Camp David Accords, which established diplomatic relations between Egypt and Israel, and called for self-governance of the Palestinian people. After his presidency, he authored several books on the conflict, including the controversially titled Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.

Carter asserts that, in light of the breakdown of U.S.-mediated peace negotiations, "The United States influence among the Palestinians and inside Israel is at the lowest point it's been in the last 60 years."

The statehood vote is largely symbolic; its greatest value, according to Carter, is to break the impasse in negotiations for a two-state solution. Without a vote, Carter says, "The only alternative is a maintenance of the status quo."

Israel adamantly opposes the UN vote and fears it could spawn another round of violence aimed at civilians. Carter says, "My position has always been, along with many other people, that any differences be resolved in a non-violent way."

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