Jimmy Carter has devoted a very large portion of his political efforts since leaving the presidency in 1981 to achieving peace between Israel and the Arabs. As Douglas Brinkley recounts in The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter's Journey Beyond the White House (New York: Viking Press, 1998), pp. 466-470, his emotional connection to Yasir Arafat developed after he left office. The following episode begins on January 19, 1996, a day before Palestinian Authority elections that Carter was to monitor.
That evening Jimmy and Rosalynn headed to Gaza City to have dinner with Arafat and his American-born wife, Suha. The evening turned into a near-surreal lovefest: as Arafat's pink-jumpsuited baby daughter bounced on Jimmy's knee, the two statesmen reminisced about Carter's days in the White House and about their first meeting in Paris in 1990. To Carter, the Palestinian election was the capstone on his post-presidential efforts to fulfill the promise of the Camp David accords; for his part, Arafat kept repeating how his return to Gaza City would not have been possible without Carter's "persistent efforts toward our cause." The former president presented the PLO [Palestinian Liberation Organization] chieftain copies of [books he had wirtten,] Always a Reckoning and The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer; Arafat recalled sending Rosalynn a traditional Palestinian embroidered jacket one Christmas when she was First Lady. . . . As the evening wound down, the Arafats promised Jimmy and Rosalynn that they would visit them in Plains. "I want to see the land that gave birth to Jimmy Carter," Arafat said. When the Carters returned to the American Colony Hotel, they were still abuzz over the Arafats' gracious hospitality. . . .
[If Arafat subsequently broke many of his commitments, he] knew how to keep the right promises, however; true to his word, as Anwar as-Sadat had in 1981, he made the pilgrimage to Plains to pay his respects to Jimmy Carter in March 1996. Unfortunately, flight controllers misdirected Arafat's jet to Dekalb-Peachtree Airport in suburban Atlanta instead: "This doesn't look like Plains to me," Arafat quipped upon landing. Because of the snafu Carter had to wait two hours for the Palestinian leader to take a sixteen-car motorcade to Plains, along the way getting his first glimpse of America's rural South, and its Baptist churches, Winn Dixie grocery stores, Waffle Houses, and cotton fields. . . .
When the motorcade finally arrived, Rosalynn served Arafat and her husband coffee and cookies as the two statesmen sat on a sofa discussing Middle East politics.