MERCED -- The University of California at Merced honored President Jimmy Carter on Monday with the Alice and Clifford Spendlove Prize in Social Justice, Diplomacy and Tolerance -- an award that Carter said made him think back to something his favorite high school teacher told him.
"We must accommodate changing times, but cling to unchanging principles," Carter said as he accepted the award in front of roughly 100 people in the school library.
He was honored for his commitment to social justice, said Sherrie Spendlove, founder of the award. "His moral integrity and passion for social justice have followed him throughout his life," she said.
Carter served as president from 1977 to 1981. He has since dedicated his life to working on national and global issues, such as conservation, public policy, human rights and conflict resolution. In 2002, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his achievements.
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The Spendlove award includes a $10,000 prize that was endowed to the university. Carter plans to donate the money to the Carter Center, an Atlanta-based organization he founded to advance human rights.
He broke for 10 minutes to speak with the Sun-Star in an exclusive interview. He concurred with Gen. David Petraeus' recent linkage of U.S. security interests in the Middle East and U.S. polices that tilt toward Israel.
He has been outspoken in speeches and books about the need for the United States to adopt a more equitable position toward the Palestinians if there's ever to be peace in the Middle East.
"His (Petraeus') primary concern was that the United States was neglecting Palestinians' basic rights," Carter said. "That does alienate, not only people who are Arabs, but also of Islamic belief all over the world. So I think Petraeus was right."
That statement, Carter added, had been repeated by President Barack Obama.
Sipping a Cherry Coca-Cola, the former president said peace could be reached in the Middle East only through a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. Such a solution would "greatly reduce animosity" toward the United States throughout the world.
He said three conditions must be met to forge any sort of lasting stability in the region: Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank; that Jerusalem be "shared" among all parties; and "the right of return" of Palestinians -- not necessarily to Israel itself, but to Palestinian territories.
"I believe most Israeli citizens agree with that," he added. "And most American Jewish people."