JERUSALEM: Former US president Jimmy Carter said on Monday that Washington had "zero" influence over Israel and the Palestinians to resolve their decades-long conflict, and its sway had dropped to the lowest level in 45 years.
Speaking on a tour of east Jerusalem with a group of former world leaders known as "The Elders," Carter said he was not optimistic that the United States could reassert its influence, and suggested that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had given up on the two-state solution.
"A major change lately has been the withdrawal of American influence" in the Israeli-Palestinian arena, Carter said, estimating it was the first time since the 1967 Six-Day War that Washington had not "played a major role" in trying to resolve the conflict.
"This is the first time that we've seen since 1967 that an American government hasn't played a major role," he said.
"America now has... zero influence on either side and in fact has withdrawn our commitment to be the major negotiator" between the two sides, he said.
"And when the United States withdraws, of course, that gives Israel a completely free hand to do what it wants," he said, describing it as a "very serious disappointment."
"US government policy in the last two or three years has been the rapid withdrawal from any kind of controversy that might not be pleasant."
Whereas Washington was once "the main obstacle to settlement," it is now "dormant," said Carter, who served as the 39th US president from 1977-81.
The 88-year-old said he hoped that the upcoming presidential election would help revive US influence in the region, but admitted he was not optimistic.
Ireland's former president Mary Robinson, also a member of The Elders and who was with the group on its last visit exactly a year ago, said the chances of a two-state solution to the conflict appeared to be disappearing.
"What we want to do as Elders is draw attention to the fact that there is a kind of insidious undermining of the possibility of a two-state solution," she said.
She indicated that every time the group visited, it saw evidence of more settlements, and more east Jerusalem Palestinian homes being taken over by Israelis.
Carter said he thought Netanyahu was no longer interested in a two-state solution to the conflict and was interested only in increasing Israel's control over the West Bank.
"I think that Netanyahu has decided to abandon the two-state solution," he said, suggesting the Israeli leader's policy was now about "taking over the entire West Bank."
"I think that all the previous prime ministers have been committed to the two-state solution and I don't believe that that is the case now in Israel," he said.
He also hoped for success in November for president Mahmud Abbas's planned bid to raise the Palestinians' status to a non-member state in the UN General Assembly.
"I hope that he will go through with his plan which at least will give the Palestinians very slight but tangible status in the world community," Carter said.
Later on Monday the former leaders met Abbas and other Palestinian officials in the West Bank.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said Abbas has confirmed that "the Palestinian draft resolution to the UN would be presented next month," according to the official Palestinian news agency WAFA.
Carter and Robinson also met Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), and Palestinian negotiator Mohammad Eshtayeh, a statement from the office of the head of the PLO said.
"It is imperative that the United States plays a more constructive role and supports our peaceful diplomatic efforts to remain on the land, resist the illegal occupation and to achieve a viable, independent Palestine state on the 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital," Ashrawi said in the statement.
Some 200,000 Israelis live in settlements in occupied and annexed east Jerusalem which the Palestinians want as the capital of their future state.
The Elders, who arrived on Sunday to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories, travel next to Egypt via Jordan.