Jimmy Carter Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid

 

I have just finished reading Jimmy Carter's new book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, and I think it is excellent. Jimmy Carter is someone who has devoted much of his adult life to working towards peace in the Middle East, and this book is a heartfelt and sensitive work dedicated toward the same end. The outrage with which it has been greeted in many American circles is actually preposterous-and, in itself, quite outrageous. President Carter has had the "temerity" to lay out a thoughtful, knowledgeable, and balanced history and analysis of the conflicts surrounding Israel and the Palestinians, and, for doing so, he has been attacked and reviled. Apparently, in the United States, it is less possible to have an open and balanced discussion of these issues than it even is in Israel-where the ideas he has espoused are far less unspeakable than here.

 

 

The book lays out the history of Carter's personal relationship to Israel and Palestine, and describes, in penetrating detail, his involvement-both as President and as a private citizen-in the negotiations that have attempted to treat the issues between Israelis and Palestinians, in the context of the politics of the nations which surround them and of the world at large. In an easily readable, personal style, he accurately lays out the history that lies behind the current conflict. He describes the forces that have been at work, within Israel as well as within Palestine; he summarizes the forces at work historically in each of the neighboring countries; he gives a rather detailed, insider's account of the United States' role in the history-presidency by presidency, from his own forward (surprise, surprise: George W. Bush comes in for special blame and criticism for almost completely abandoning the pursuit of peace in this region and for unleashing some particularly regressive behaviors on the part of the Israelis); and he gives an overview of some of the other world forces that have played a part in this history. (If there is any noteworthy deficiency in Carter's overview, by the way, it lies in his presentation of the other Arab nations' historical treatment of Palestinian refugees and the political implications which motivated this treatment: he acknowledges some of the problems in how these states treated the issue, but fails to present a penetrating enough analysis of the internal and international reasons for their mistreatment of these refugees and their manipulation of their existence for political ends.) The book is both an informative and sound beginner's overview of this most important world situation, and an insightful in-depth perspective for even those who have a great deal of knowledge of this subject.

 

 

Most importantly, the book sets out some principles for understanding what is necessary for bringing peace to the region. I quote here from the book's summary:

 

 

Since the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty was signed in 1979, much blood has been shed unnecessarily and repeated efforts for a negotiated peace between Israel and her neighbors have failed. Despite its criticism from some Arab sources, this treaty stands as proof that diplomacy can bring lasting peace between ancient adversaries. Although disparities among them are often emphasized, the 1974 Israeli-Syrian withdrawal agreement, the 1978 Camp David Accords, the Reagan statement of 1982, the 1993 Oslo Agreement, the treaty between Israel and Jordan in 1994, the Arab peace proposal of 2002, the 2003 Geneva Initiative, and the International Quartet's Roadmap all contain key common elements that can be consolidated if pursued in good faith.

 

 

There are two interrelated obstacles to permanent peace in the Middle East:

 

 

1. Some Israelis believe they have the right to confiscate and colonize Palestinian land and try to justify the sustained subjugation and persecution of increasingly hopeless ad aggravated Palestinians; and

 

2. Some Palestinians react by honoring suicide bombers as martyrs to be rewarded in heaven and consider the killing of Israelis as victories.

 

In turn Israel responds with retribution and repression, and militant Palestinians refuse to recognize the legitimacy of Israel and vow to destroy the nation. The cycle of distrust and violence is sustained, and efforts for peace are frustrated. Casualties have been high as the occupying forces impose even tighter controls. From September 2000 until March 2006, 3,982 Palestinians and 1,084 Israelis were killed in the second intifada, and these numbers include many children: 708 Palestinians and 123 Israelis. As indicated earlier, there was an ever-rising toll of dead and wounded from the latest outbreak of violence in Gaza and Lebanon.

 

 

The only rational response to this continuing tragedy is to revitalize the peace process through negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, but the United States has, in effect, abandoned this effort. It may be that one of the periodic escalations in violence will lead to strong influence being exerted from the International Quartet to implement its Roadmap for Peace. These are the key requirements:

 

 

a. The security of Israel must be guaranteed. The Arabs must acknowledge openly and specifically that Israel is a reality and has a right to exist in peace, behind secure and recognized borders, and with a firm Arab pledge to terminate any further acts of violence against the legally constituted nation of Israel.

 

b. The internal debate within Israel must be resolved in order to define Israeli's permanent legal boundary. The unwavering official policy of the United States since Israel became a state has been that its borders must coincide with those prevailing from 1949 until 1967 (unless modified by some mutually agreeable land swaps), specified in the unanimously adopted U.N. Resolution 242, which mandates Israel's withdrawal from occupied territories. This obligation was confirmed by Israel's leaders in agreements negotiated in 1978 at Camp David and in 1993 at Oslo, for which they received the Nobel Peace Prize, and both of these commitments were officially ratified by the Israeli government. Also, as a member of the International Quartet that includes Russia, the United Nations, and the European Union, America supports the Roadmap for Peace, which espouses exactly the same requirements. Palestinian leaders unequivocally accepted this proposal, but Israel has officially rejected its key provisions with unacceptable caveats and prerequisites.

 

c. The sovereignty of all Middle East Nations and sanctity of international borders must be honored. There is little doubt that accommodation with the Palestinians can bring full recognition of Israel and its right to live in peace, with Arab commitment to restrain further violence initiated by extremist Palestinians.

 

....The United States has used its U.N. Security Council veto more than forty times to block resolutions critical of Israel. Some of these vetoes have brought international discredit on the United States, and there has been little doubt that the lack of a persistent effort to resolve the Palestinian issue is a major source of anti-American sentiments and terrorist activity throughout the Middle East and the Islamic world.

 

 

..The bottom line is this: Peace will come to Israel and the Middle East only when the Israeli government is willing to comply with international law, with the Roadmap for Peace, with official American policy, with the wishes of a majority of its own citizens-and honor its own previous commitments-by accepting its legal borders. All Arab neighbors must pledge to honor Israel's right to live in peace under these conditions. The United States is squandering international prestige and goodwill and intensifying global anti-American terrorism by officially condoning or abetting the Israeli confiscation and colonization of Palestinian territories.

 

 

It will be a tragedy-for Israelis, the Palestinians, and the world-if peace is rejected and a system of oppression, apartheid and sustained violence is permitted to prevail.

 

 

I hardly think these observations and proposals will strike most rational readers as hateful or bigoted; and I suspect that they will appear one-sided only to those who are so thoroughly entrenched on one side of these issues that they cannot recognize any validity at all to any position other than their own. One can argue about some of the phraseology and details of presentation; but, if one understands the tremendous circularity in the cycles of action and reaction, one will not be bothered by the questions of what comes first. (E.g., of course there has been a refusal on the part of some Arab states and factions to recognize the existence of Israel from the very beginning, but the annexation of territories and building of settlements therein has set back that recognition process decades.) And to consider a loving, thoughtful presentation such as Carter's as anti-Semitic simply boggles my mind.

 

 

One can correctly accuse Jimmy Carter of being provocative-but, then, he is obviously trying to provoke some different sort of thinking about these issues. His title is provocative, but it is accurate in laying out the choice: Israel is in danger of becoming a nation in which a large portion of its inhabitants-perhaps a majority-are excluded from citizenship; a government run by members of one ethnic/religious group ruling another ethnic/religious group over which it has to exercise repressive control; a society in which the empowered group looks down upon and fears the other group. Some may be offended by it, but "apartheid" is an accurate word for such an arrangement. And it is what Carter wants Israel to avoid.

 

 

And if there is another thing that is clear from Carter's book, it is how much the United States has failed to exert a positive influence on the peace process in recent years, and how important this failing is. I actually believe that peace in this region more depends on the positive, active involvement of the U.S. than Carter does: I am less hopeful than he about Israel's ability to come on its own to a sensible change of direction and to find a way to relinquish the occupied territories-as is clearly necessary in any responsible plan for peace in the region-and end their part in the cycle of violence; but I am also not sanguine about the Palestinians' ability to establish a stable society and a functioning government sufficient to end their contribution to the instability and violence-and I am certainly not confident that other Arabs nations can be relied upon to act responsibly to this end, as well. It is my opinion that the United States will have to be active in a heavy-handed way-perhaps encouraged and prodded by the other members of the International Quartet, and in concert with them-to bring about and sustain a sane solution. At the moment, unfortunately, our current Administration has instead been pursuing a course of action actually more modeled on the failed policies of the Israeli government than as a corrective to it-and, naturally, in so doing has unleashed those forces in Israel to act even more in the same imperious and aggressive ways.

 

 

Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that the debate that should be occurring in our country about these crucial issues seems out-of-bounds to many people. It has become a virtually forbidden topic here to question Israel's policies-in a manner that, by the way, it is not in Israel itself. There is actually more room for Israelis comfortably to raise questions about the advisability and morality of Israel's actions and policies than it is for Americans. You may not agree with Carter's positions or conclusions, but you will profit from opening your mind to his perspective and attempting to integrate the information he is conveying-and I believe you will conclude that there is no reasonable way to conclude that it is "anti-Semitic," unless, of course, you think that offering any criticism of anything that Israel does qualifies one for that label. Personally, I find that he is right on about most of what he has to say, and virtually all of what he proposes. The issue is not necessarily that one need to agree, however; the issue is that one needs to be open to think about it.

 

 

Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid is a worthwhile and important book. Carter was brave to write it; and you would be wise to read it! I suggest you do. It is available from www.Amazon.com for $16.20.

 

 

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