Summary of "A Conversation On Peacemaking With Jimmy Carter"

Summary of

A Conversation On Peacemaking With Jimmy Carter

National Institute for Dispute Resolution

Summary written by Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: National Institute for Dispute Resolution. A Conversation On Peacemaking With Jimmy Carter. Washington, DC: National Institute for Dispute Resolution, 1992.

This is the transcription of a 1991 conversation between Jimmy Carter and James Laue. The conversation between former President Jimmy Carter and James Laue, Lynch Professor of Conflict Resolution at George Mason University on peacemaking, took place during the fifth National Conference on Peacemaking and Conflict Resolution in Charlotte, North Carolina on June 7, 1991. Topics of the discussion include the Camp David negotiations, the Middle East, the Carter Center, and some of Carter's general insights into peacemaking.

Camp David: Stories and Lessons

The first topic of the discussion was Camp David negotiations. President Carter described the preparation, relationships that developed between him and the parties and between the parties, and the turning points during the process. Sadat, the Egyptian President, was his very close friend and had the biggest commitment to the peace process. Begin, Israeli Prime Minister, was the most resistant within the Israeli delegation. Camp David was a perfect environment for those leaders to meet: it was a relatively small isolated place where they had to share the same swimming pool and tennis courts, which was very unusual for representatives of these two antagonistic countries. Prior to negotiations, President Carter carefully studied the psychological profiles of the two leaders prepared by the US national security staff. Soon after the beginning of the talks, it became obvious that the two leaders were not ready to face each other directly; their views were too incompatible. While they spent the first three days working with Jimmy Carter in a small room in his cabin, for the last ten days the two leaders did not see each other at all. Negotiations took on a form of indirect mediation. After a single document was created, Jimmy Carter spent time with each of the leaders separately on revising the document. Public support for peace in Israel played a large role in Begin's decision to sign the final proposal. The Camp David Accords established a framework for a peace treaty negotiated in six months.

Asked to describe a turning point in the negotiations, Carter presented the following example. The issue which almost ruined the peace process was dismantling of the Israeli settlements. Begin took an oath that he would never allow dismantling of the settlements. He was firm and decided to withdraw from the talks. Before leaving Camp David, he asked Jimmy Carter to sign eight photographs for his grandchildren. The photographs depicted him, Carter and Sadat. Carter addressed his autographs personally to each of Begin's grandchildren and took the pictures to Begin. Begin was very touched, and agreed to proceed with negotiations. A compromise on the issue of settlements was found: the Knesse (the Israeli parliament), would vote on it. Later the Knesse approved dismantling. (However, the leaders of the Likud coalition did not support the decision and they later came to power in Israel.) Jimmy Carter concluded that successful negotiations involve personal and emotional elements and demand creative approaches in finding ways out of stalemates.

The Middle East Today

The next topic was the current situation in the Middle East. President Carter praised the attempts of Secretary Baker to arrange a meeting between the two sides, especially considering the absence of the efforts in this direction for the last ten years. President Carter emphasized the need for the US to exercise its influence on all the parties continuously if we want peace in this region. The situation is complicated by the parties' firm positions on certain issues, like unwillingness of the Israeli leaders, most of whom belong to the Likud coalition, to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza. The Camp David Accords promised full autonomy to Palestinians living on these territories, but this promise has never been implemented. To de-escalate the conflict both parties could make practical steps in trust building. For example, the PLO could abandon those parts of its charter that argue for destruction of Israel, and could disavow violent means of struggle. Thus, there are ways for both sides to gradually build up trustful relationships. The problem is that there is not enough desire on the part of the leaders to work toward peace.

Due to the process of democratization taking place in the Soviet Union, Israel has improved its relationships not just with the US but with the USSR as well. President Assad of Syria expressed his willingness to have direct negotiations with Israel on the issue of the Golan Heights. Thus, the international situation is improving, which gives a good perspective for the future. President Carter identified two issues that need to be clarified before arranging negotiations: the role of the US at an international conference and the length of the bilateral discussion deadlock before the parties can ask for the instructions and assistance from the plenum groups. Arabs and Israelis have opposing opinions on both of these issues.

The Carter Center and the International Negotiation Network

President Carter identified three general rules of the work of the Carter Center: (1) not to duplicate the activities of other organizations; (2) to maintain non-political approach to projects; (3) to combine scientific analysis with practical implementation.

President Carter outlined major programs of the Carter Center. They can be subdivided into several categories. "Nutrition and health projects" constitute the Center's humanitarian activity (p. 6). For example, the Center has helped to "increase food production" in Africa (p. 6). One of its major projects is directed toward disease eradication through immunization.

The second direction of work is conflict resolution. The fact is that the most violent conflicts in the world are civil wars. For political reasons, international organizations like the UN as well as individual countries cannot become involved in those internal conflicts. The Carter Center and its Negotiation Network which includes George Mason University, Harvard, Uppsala and the World Conference on Religion and Peace tries to fill this gap. It makes those conflicts and their causalities known to the world and attempts to mediate them.

Specialists from the Center learned about an alternative to negotiation or mediation--elections. They assisted in conducting elections in Panama, Nicaragua, etc. President Carter talked about some of his interventions. In Ethiopia he met with Mengistu (the country's president at that time) and two revolutionary groups, Tigerean and Eritrean. As a result of those meetings the parties agreed to meet for peace talks. The situation changed later; Mengistu was no longer in office. President Carter believed that elections could restart the peace process.

In Sudan, through the Center's wheat production program, President Carter gained access to the government circle and he also met with the head of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement. In Panama, American diplomats were not allowed to communicate with Panamian government after it stopped supporting the Contras. The Carter Center was not under such restrictions and, invited by Noriega, conducted the elections there. Interestingly, in Panama, Nicaragua and Dominican Republic, where the Carter Center was asked by the government to assist in elections, the inviting government lost the elections. President Carter concluded that conducting elections became a new way of dealing with conflicts.

Lessons about Peacemaking

President Carter identified several lessons of his peace-making experience. (1) There is a need to communicate with both parties. Organizations such as the UN cannot conduct negotiations with revolutionaries when the government of the country is a UN member. (2) Public announcements on the negotiation process should be joint. (In Ethiopia, Eritreans came with the initiative to start peace talks with the Mengistu government. But after Mengistu agreed with this proposal, his parliament made a statement that it was the government that initiated the peace talks.) (3) The role of the mediators should be clearly defined. (4) The negotiation process should be confidential and there should be no press involved. This was one of the reasons for the success of the Camp David negotiations. (5) Negotiations should have a time limit. (6) Prior to negotiations, the mediator should prepare a document stating all the points on which the parties agree. (7) Negotiators care a lot about public opinion of their decisions. During the Camp David negotiations, public opinion polls were run every four days in Israel. This way, when Begin expressed concern about public opinion of his decisions, Carter had results of the polls on these issues. (8) After the agreement is reached, the implementation process should be clear and convincing. In Sinai, for example, the presence of UN observers gave more weight to the agreement. The US promised two billion dollars to pay to move "Israeli airfields out of Egyptian territory" (p. 10).

Questions from Conference Participants

President Carter commented on the role of third world exploitation by corporations in kindling conflicts. He identified several conflict causes: ethnic hatred, human rights abuses by an oppressor, and deterioration of living standards. The latter cause is often the result of the actions of American corporations. Those actions create distrust toward Americans, even those who try to make a positive change in third world countries.

Some Advice for Peacemakers

President Carter appealed to conflict resolution practitioners to publicize their work, to make more people aware of the resources available to them in constructive conflict management.