NEVE DANIEL, West Bank – Former President Jimmy Carter, an outspoken critic of Israeli settlements, met Sunday with West Bank settlers in what he described as a chance to "listen" and make his views known.
Carter met with settler leader Shaul Goldstein and others at the pastoral settlement of Neve Daniel, south of Jerusalem. Carter said he was "here to listen" to the settlers, and that he hoped to "make sure they understand my own attitude toward Israel and the Jewish population in the world and toward the Jewish settlers."
Later, Carter sat in Goldstein's living room, positioned under five books of the Hebrew Bible on a bookshelf.
"This is our homeland, but we recognize there are other people living next to us," Goldstein told him, referring to the Palestinians, who view the West Bank as part of a future state.
Jewish settlement in the West Bank is one of the key points of dispute among Israelis and Palestinians. Much of the international community views settlements as an obstacle to a peace deal.
Settlers, and many Israelis, see the West Bank as the Jewish people's Biblical heartland and say Israel should not cede it. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under pressure from President Barack Obama to halt settlement construction, but has so far refused to do so.
Carter, 85, brokered the historic peace deal between Israel and Egypt in 1979. In a controversial 2007 book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," Carter argued that Israel has to choose between ceding the West Bank to the Palestinians in a peace deal or maintaining a system of ethnic inequality similar to that of the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Views like that have made Carter unpopular among settlers and their supporters. A group of local settlers circulated an open letter titled, "Jimmy Carter go home," saying the former president was an "anti-Semite" and "not welcome here."
"Mr. Carter is an advocate for those seeking to destroy Israel, and the fact that he contributes to that agenda under the guise of a man of good will seeking peace only makes him more dangerous and his efforts more dishonest," the letter said.