Carter hugs Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh
Carter hugs Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh Israel news photo: Flash 90

Controversial former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has written a letter to the the Jewish people, asking for forgiveness for stigmas he caused against Israel as a result of his agenda for Arab-Israeli peace.

In a letter sent to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) in time for the Christmas season, Carter wrote: "We must recognize Israel’s achievements under difficult circumstances, even as we strive in a positive way to help Israel continue to improve its relations with its Arab populations, but we must not permit criticisms for improvement to stigmatize Israel. As I would have noted at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but which is appropriate at any time of the year, I offer an 'Al Het' for any words or deeds of mine that may have done so."

"Al Het" (literally "for the sin") is a fundamental component of the Yom Kippur prayer service, in which penitents ask for Divine forgiveness for sins committed against G-d. However, the term could also be used to mean a general plea for pardoning.

Carter's position on Jews and Arabs in the Land of Israel has been controversial since his presidency. 

During his term, Carter directed the signing of the Camp David Accords by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, which resulted in the forced expulsion of Jews from the Sinai town of Yamit, as well as the transfer of the giant Sinai region to Egypt.

In 2006, Carter authored the book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," in which he lauded former PLO chief Yasser Arafat; said modern U.S. administrations have been "submissive" to "powerful political, economic, and religious" pro-Israel advocates; compared Israel's development of Judea and Samaria to South African anti-black apartheid; and called the biblical heartland of Israel "Palestinian land", saying the Jewish state must retreat to the 1949 armistice lines.

In June 2009, Carter visited Arab leaders in Gaza, Judea, and Samaria, receiving the Palestine International Award for Excellence and Creativity. During the ceremony, he told attendees, "I have been in love with the Palestinian people for many years" and promised to bolster Palestinians "as long as I live, to win your freedom, your independence, your sovereignty and a good life." He also visited with Hamas' leadership in Syria.

Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), quickly called Carter's missive "welcome", saying it comes from a "significant individual" and would signal "beginning of reconciliation."