Israel must stop building settlements in Palestinian territories if peace is ever to be achieved in the Middle East, former President Jimmy Carter said Monday night as he received an award at a Virginia university for his humanitarian efforts.
"As President Barack Obama has made clear, the key factor that prevents peace is the continuing building of Israeli settlements in Palestine, driven by a determined minority of Israelis who desire to occupy and colonize east Jerusalem and the West Bank," Carter said.
Carter, a Nobel Peace laureate, spoke to a crowd of 6,500 as he and former first lady Rosalynn Carter received an award from James Madison University's Mahatma Gandhi Center for Global Nonviolence.
Carter, 84, who helped bring peace between Egypt and Israel with the Camp David Accords when he was president in the late 1970s, has maintained a strong interest in the Middle East. He said he has visited the region three times within the past year.
'Importance of tolerance and compassion'
Carter said he's convinced that withdrawal of Israeli forces from Arab territories will dramatically reduce any threats to Israel.
"All 22 Arab countries have offered diplomatic recognition and full trade and commerce if Israel will withdraw from occupied territories," he said.
And withdrawal is necessary, Carter said.
"The alternative to two states is one nation in the same area, within which Arabs will soon comprise a clear majority," he said. "This will mean the end of a Jewish state or else an apartheid system within which Palestinians are dominated and deprived of equal rights."
Carter and fellow Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu of South Africa were among a delegation of veteran statesmen who visited Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip last month to support Israelis and Palestinians seeking peace.
In June, he went to Gaza and met with leaders of Hamas, which the United States, European Union and Israel have refused to deal with directly because they consider it a terror group.
Tutu was the first recipient of the James Madison center's nonviolence award in 2007, and the Carters are the second. It was presented on the United Nations' International Day of Peace.
Sushil Mittal, director of the Gandhi Center, said the award recognizes the Carters' commitment to humanitarian efforts.
"They understand and exemplify the importance of tolerance and compassion for other nations and people from different backgrounds," he said in a statement.
After leaving the White House in 1981, the Carters established a nonprofit center in Atlanta dedicated to resolving conflicts and promoting health worldwide.