Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks on Middle East Policies in Elizabeth, New Jersey

June 06, 1976

I am very grateful to all of you for giving me the chance to meet this morning with your mayor, Thomas Dunn, and those clergymen who could come here from throughout the State of New Jersey, and community leaders who have assembled here and others who have a deep interest in the attitude of our nation toward both domestic and foreign affairs.

For the last I6/2 months, I have been campaigning around our country spelling out with increasing amount of attention among people my positions on issues that are important to you and also of importance to other nations in the world. This morning I wanted to take an opportunity, which is a fairly rare occasion for a candidate, to make a major policy statement in written form because if I do become President of this Country I want it to be known very clearly what my policy will be throughout my administration representing you as a spokesman for this country, as Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces, as a shaper and consummator of our foreign policy on the various important subjects of the Middle East.

The land of Israel has always meant a great deal to me. As a boy I read of the prophets and martyrs in the Bible—the same Bible that we all study together. As an American I have admired the State of Israel and how she, like the United States, opened her doors to the homeless and the oppressed.

I've traveled in Israel, visiting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the Golan Heights, the West Bank of the Jordan, visiting personally with Mrs. Meir, Prime Minister Rabin, Mr. Abba Eban, Finance Minister Sapir, and other Israeli leaders, as well. I have also had a chance to meet and talk and learn about Israel's people. Like all of you, I have been inspired by the optimism and courage and the hard work that I have seen in Israel.

When I announced my candidacy for the Presidency in December of 1974, I said that the time for American intervention in all the problems of the world is past I also said that we cannot retreat into isolationism. I pointed out that America must fulfill commitments and maintain its strength if world peace is to be preserved. I stressed also that the integrity of Israel as a Jewish State must be preserved.

Three months ago, in a foreign policy speech in Chicago, I said that balance of power politics should be replaced by a new effort to join with other nations to build a just and a stable world order, and that it is unfortunate that our nation's foreign policy is being made and executed by just one man—the Secretary of State. I stressed my views that in a democracy a nation's foreign policy should be openly arrived at, and should reflect the essential decency and generosity and honesty of the American people.

I want to speak today about how these principles should apply to the situation in the Middle East.

This region has experienced a resurgence of the tension and conflict which has been its lot for decades and, indeed, for centuries. Since 1946, four wars have been fought there. Countless diplomatic initiatives have been launched. Yet peace seems no closer today than it was in 1948, and the possibility of the Middle East touching off a global war is still very much with us.

But even without war, terrorism runs rampant and the burden of arms bleeds the budget of every nation in the area.

Obviously, all people of good will can agree it is time—it is far past time— for permanent peace in the Middle East. A peace based on genuine reconciliation and respect between all the concerned nations there.

And in this quest for peace, the American people as well as the people of Israel and the Arab States look to the United States government to help lead the way.

We have a unique opportunity to contribute to the solution of this conflict if we can maintain the trust of all sides. Our constant and unswerving goal must be the survival of Israel as a Jewish State, and the achievement for all people of a just and lasting settlement. As long as there is no such settlement, there can be no peace. There will only be periods of uneasy truce punctuated by border raids and terrorism while each side builds up forces preparing for another conflict.

A real peace must be based on absolute assurance of Israel's survival and security. As President, I would never yield on that point. The survival of Israel is not just a political issue, it is a moral imperative. That is my deeply held belief, and it is the belief that is shared by the vast majority of American people.

Rarely in history have two nations been so closely bound together as the United States and Israel. We are both democratic nations, we both cherish freedom of the press, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion. We are both nations of immigrants. We both share cultural and artistic values. We are friends and we are constant allies. Ours was the first nation to recognize the State of Israel when it was formed, and we must remain the first nation to which Israel can turn in time of need.

Just as we must be clear about our commitment for the preservation and well-being of Israel, we must also be clear about our commitment to meaningful and productive Arab-Israeli negotiations.

Only face-to-face communications can build a trust and insure the accommodations that will be needed. By insisting on these kinds of talks, by demonstrating the seriousness of our commitment to a real peace, we can use our influence to prepare all sides for the best way out of this tragic conflict.

I favor early movement toward discussion of the outline of an eventual overall settlement. I discussed this particular subject with Mrs. Golda Meir within the last few weeks—an early movement toward discussion of the outline of an eventual overall settlement A limited settlement, as we have seen in the past, still leaves unresolved the underlying threat to Israel. A general settlement is needed—one which will end the conflict between Israel and its neighbors once and for all.

Now the guide to a general settlement is to be found in United Nations Resolution 242 which has been accepted by Israel and all her neighboring governments. It sets forth two main principles.

One of these is, and I quote, "termination of all claims on states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secured and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force." That is a very important commitment, which I repeat has been accepted by Israel and all the surrounding nations.

This is the heart of the matter. Peace in the Middle East depends more than anything else on a basic change of attitude. To be specific, on Arab recognition of the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish State.

Now this change of attitude on the part of the Arab States must be reflected in tangible and concrete actions including first of all the recognition of Israel, which they have not yet done; second, diplomatic relations with Israel; third, a peace treaty with Israel; fourth, open frontiers by Israel's neighbors; last, an end to embargo and official hostile propaganda against the State of Israel.

In justifying these steps to their own people, Arab leaders will have to acknowledge that the Arab-Israeli war is over once and for all, that this is not just another armed truce. Without this basic change, no permanent peace is possible.

The other principle of the United Nations Resolution 242 calls for, and again I quote, "withdrawal of Israel's armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict." This language leaves open the door for changes in the pre-1967 lines by mutual agreement

Final borders between Israel and her neighbors should be determined in direct negotiations between the parties, and they should not be imposed from outside.

Now this general settlement we all want to see will take time to negotiate and even more time to implement. Its execution would probably come in stages. This would permit both sides to test the durability of the settlement, and it would give either side the opportunity to halt the process if it found that its own interests were being violated.

We are dealing with a deep and bitter legacy of hatred and distrust which can only be dissipated over time. This makes it all the more important now to lift the sights of all concerned by focusing on the long-term goal.

While we work toward peace, we must acknowledge the lessons of the past wars. Progress toward peace requires that Israel remain strong enough that it can neither be overrun militarily nor isolated in the international community.

Israel has never sought American soldiers and in all of the many discussions I have had with top Israeli leaders in the present and past governments, in the Knesset, in the military, I have never heard an Israeli leader say they might some day need American troops. They seek only the tools to assure their own defense.

We should continue to supply, in the full amount necessary, economic and military aid so that Israel can pursue peace from a position of strength and power.

We should continue to aid Israel's economy which has been strained to the utmost by the burdens of defense. Mrs. Meir told me that over 40 percent of Israel's total budget went for defense.

We must also continue to maintain our strong military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean under every circumstance, with a capacity to reinforce that presence powerfully, if need be, in order to deter outside interference in any local conflict.

Now none of this need prevent our maintaining good relations with the Arab States. Avoiding conflict and achieving a settlement is in their interest as well as in Israel's.

In assisting both sides' efforts to achieve such a settlement we not only fulfill our commitments to Israel, we strengthen the strong lines of friendship that have developed between us and the Arab countries over many years. The process of peace will be best served if these relations deepen—not at the expense of Israel—but in the interest of all countries involved. I do not believe it serves the cause of peace if we arm any country beyond its legitimate needs for defense. Local arms races, besides being very costly, increase the chances of war.

I said 2 months ago that I do not favor supplying offensive weapons to Egypt and I still hold to that view. We should help Egypt obtain housing and jobs and health care for its people, not such offensive weapons as tanks and attack planes and missiles. Investing in Egypt's economic development is an investment in peace.

We have already developed close ties of investment and economic aid with many Arab countries. This shows that economic interdependence can also be a foundation of peace, that Arab people are no less tired of war than Israel, no less weary of its burden and waste, and no less mournful of their dead. Some Arab States have set goals for economic development and education which are worthy of great respect as well as our aid and participation. But their dreams, like the dreams of Israel, will come true only if there is a lasting peace in the Middle East

Unless there is peace the Arab countries will inevitably become radicalized, more militant, and more susceptible to Soviet reentry, both politically and militarily. If that happens, Israel will be confronted with an even greater threat than she faces today.

Peace in the Middle East involves difficult, highly emotional issues. In face-to-face negotiations, if all parties will act with fairness and goodwill, the questions of boundary lines and the status of the Palestinians can be resolved.

There is a humanitarian core within the complexities of the Palestinian problem. Too many human beings, denied a sense of hope for the future, are living in makeshift and crowded camps where demagogues and terrorists can feed on their despair. They have rights which must be recognized in any settlement and the Government of Israel has made it clear that it is sensitive to that fact.

But those terrorists who wage war and deny the very concept of Israeli nationhood only undermine their own people's best interests. We must make it clear to the world that there can be no reward for terrorism.

I am going to speak to you of the Soviet Union. We want no clash with the Soviets, but we cannot accept the intervention of its combat forces into any Arab-Israeli conflict. Our naval and air presence in the eastern Mediterranean should make this clear. Mutual nonintervention by the superpowers serves these powers' interests and also the interest of all states in the area.

By the same token, I do not believe that the road to peace can be found by United States-Soviet imposition of a settlement. It would, however, be desirable to attain Soviet agreement and support for any settlement, since we do not want to give the Soviet Union any reason or excuse to subvert or undermine that settlement We seek the support of the Soviet Government in the search for peace, but we will continue that search with or without her support.

We all want to see a Middle East dedicated to human progress rather than sterile hate. We want to see the desert bloom on both sides of the River Jordan, and along the Nile River, and everywhere that human beings hope for better life for themselves and for their children.

We must work towards these goals through international organizations, as well as bilateral negotiations.

This is a difficult time for Israel in the international arena, primarily because of the importance of oil to the world's developing nations. I deplore the actions taken recently in the United States. I reject utterly the charge that Zionism is a form of racism. Indeed, as you know, Zionism has been, in part, a response to racism against the Jewish people. The concept of the State of Israel was bom out of centuries of persecution of human beings because they practiced a different religion.

For these 2,000 years, the Jewish people in century after century, in country after country, have faced propaganda, attempts at forced conversion, discrimination, pogroms, and death, until the ultimate horror of the holocaust. Surely, the Jewish people are entitled to one place on this earth where they can have their own state on soil given them by God from time immemorial.

For years the vision of Israel has embodied the dream that there could be at least one place on earth where racism could never exist. Now that dream has come true. As a country founded upon religious freedom and dedicated to brotherhood, America has a special responsibility, not only to oppose this baseless charge wherever it appears, but to keep that dream alive.

Finally, I want to say that there have been far too many secret undertakings, covert assurances, contradictory promises, and diplomatic sleights of hand. Maneuvers of this kind are bound to produce, as they have produced, both failure in negotiations and suspicion among the participants.

American policy toward the Middle East and toward every other part of the world should be shaped with the knowledge of the Congress from the outset on a bipartisan basis. It would emerge from broad and well-informed public debate. Indeed, this is a necessity. In every foreign venture that has failed, whether it was Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile, Angola or in the excesses of the CIA, our government operated secretly, and forged ahead without consulting the American people. It did things that were contrary to our basic character.

Public understanding and support today are as vital to successful foreign policies as they are to any domestic policies. No one can make our foreign policy for us as well as we can make it for ourselves. It should be based not just on military might or economic power or political pressure, but also on truth, justice, equality and a true representation of our moral character and the compassion of our people. A policy of that kind will reflect the best in all of us. And that kind of policy can succeed.

Peace in the Middle East is not an impossible dream. It can be a concrete objective, and it is one to which the next President should direct his efforts from the date he takes office as a matter of the highest priority and the greatest urgency.

If I become your President, I will do everything in my power to make our nation an agent of peace in the Middle East; a just and lasting peace that will be in keeping with the teaching of Scripture, in keeping with our nation's best traditions and in fulfillment of the highest hopes of all mankind.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks on Middle East Policies in Elizabeth, New Jersey Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347616

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