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Former US Statesmen Say US Role Critical to Securing Middle East Peace

The meeting between President Barak Obama and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak Tuesday was the latest in a series of meetings aimed at exploring new avenues for peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, especially the Palestinians. It comes amid a chorus of proposals from independent groups suggesting ways the U.S. can help resolve the bloody, decades-old conflict. Recently, four prominent American statesmen, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, joined that chorus. They present their recommendations in a privately-produced 20-minute film titled New Hope for Peace: What America Must Do to End the Israel-Palestine Conflict.

Voices of experience in Middle East politics

In addition to President Carter, the four men in the film are former Secretary of State James Baker, and two former national security advisors, General Brent Scowcroft and Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski. They are among the most well-known and experienced proponents of the idea that a U.S.-brokered peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is key to a wider peace among Israel and its Arab neighbors.

The film was produced by the Foundation for Middle East Peace, a private Washington-based group. Retired U.S. Ambassador Philip Wilcox is the Foundation's president and a 30-year veteran of U.S. diplomatic efforts in the Middle East. He says without intervention and mediation by a third party, "there will be no peace and that is the role that these four statesmen recommend for the President of the U.S."

Wilcox says negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are difficult, because "there is no balance between the negotiating powers; one is vastly more powerful than the other." He notes that both Israel and Palestine "are dysfunctional when it comes to dealing with security, territorial and peace issues."

A new U.S. peace initiative?

Wilcox says he believes President Obama's recent statements on the Israel-Palestine conflict and his outreach to the Arab world signal the beginnings of a new American peace initiative in the Middle East.

According to former Secretary of State James Baker, that initiative should be guided by the familiar roadmap of an earlier Israeli-Palestinian agreement, negotiated at the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991, often called the two-state solution.

"It would be two states living side by side in peace," Baker says. "There will be many of the settlements that have been built in the areas immediately surrounding Jerusalem [that] will be retained by the Israelis. Palestinians will be given an equal amount of land elsewhere to make up for the loss of that territory."

While Palestinians hope to return to their former property, now in Israel, Baker says he believes they will instead receive "compensation for lands that have been taken."

These politically charged issues, says former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, can only be resolved through an American-brokered negotiation. "The president needs to step up and say 'this is the American proposal'," Scowcroft says, explaining, that way, the Palestinian and Israeli leadership could each return to their people and say, "this is not exactly what we wanted but the Americans made us do it."

President Jimmy Carter, whose Mideast peacemaking efforts led to the historic 1978 Camp David accords, says he is encouraged by the Obama Administration's insistence that Israel halt its construction of Jewish settlements in disputed territories. Those settlements, the former president says, undermine the two-state solution.

On this issue, Carter offers President Obama some specific advice, saying he should "let his position be very clear [regarding] things like settlements and the demolition of homes in East Jerusalem, the security of Israel, the unity of the Palestinian people in a government based on fair and free elections, and cooperation with the Egyptians, who are doing the negotiations between Hamas and the Israelis."

A historic opportunity for a new president

Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski believes President Obama must also be personally engaged in Middle East peace negotiations.

"Ultimately, neither side is really prepared to make the necessary concessions," he says. "It takes a constructive, impartial, and energetic outside mediator to push the process forward. And there is only one candidate who can fill these qualifications and that is the U.S., and more specifically, the president of the U.S."

In their film presentation, the four American statesmen conclude that they believe President Obama has a historic opportunity today to broker a solution to the protracted Arab-Israeli conflict. That solution, they contend, can give Palestinians the freedom and dignity they seek, and provide Israelis with the security they need.

Ambassador Philip Wilcox of the Foundation for Middle East Peace says his organization has delivered DVD copies of the film to the White House, the State Department and every member of the U.S. Congress.