"I never imagined that Gush Etzion would be transferred to Palestinian hands," Carter said following a meeting with local council leader Shaul Goldstein. He explained that the area is very close to the 1967 armistice line and will likely stay part of Israel forever.
The meeting with Goldstein took place at the latter's home, at Carter's request, and included several prominent members of the Gush Etzion community.
Among the participants were religious leaders Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein and Har Zion yeshiva director Yehoshua Altman. Also there were two women from bereaved families, Ruthi Gillis who lost her husband in the Karmei Tzur terror attack and Sherry Mandel, whose 13-year-old son Koby was killed by terrorists near their home in Tekoa.
The group was joined by a young couple that recently wed, who were there to explain to Carter that restrictions on natural growth in the settlements meant there was no room for them to raise a family in their own community.
Carter and Goldstein (Photo: Dudi Vaknin)
The meeting lasted an hour and a half, with Carter saying from the onset that he had come to "listen." Goldstein showed the former president a map of Gush Etzion from 1951 and the legal documentation proving his father had lawfully purchased the family's land in the region.
At the end of the meeting, Carter said he had learned new things and added that he had a long-standing commitment to Israel and had been working to bring peace to Israel for 30 years but also to bring peace and security to "Israel's neighbors."
Goldstein said the meeting was an important one, noting that Carter had never visited in the area or met settlers. "I think he left the meeting a little different than when he came in," Goldstein said.
However, there were others in Gush Etzion and surrounding settlements who were unhappy about the outspoken former president's visit.
A leaflet signed by representatives from Neve Daniel, Efrat, Gush Etzion and Kiryat Arba-Hebron, and titled 'Jimmy Carter is not wanted in Gush Etzion,' stated that "Carter is known for his flagrant hostility to Israel and is trying to paint himself as a fair mediator in the Jewish-Arab conflict, but is not eligible for such a role."