From this position as insider and expert Carter describes what he believes “has brought us to this present situation . . . and some of the things that can and must be done to bring peace and justice to the region” (11). And, using his fame and reputation, he has done this for American public consumption. Indeed, to spark a public debate in United States on bringing “peace and justice” to the Holy Land is in fact the book’s purpose. In doing so, it is to Carter’s credit that he treats these two nouns, peace and justice, as two sides of one coin. Certainly history has demonstrated that, in the case of Israel and Palestine, you can’t have one without the other.1
Early on in the text, Carter notes that “most Arab regimes have accepted the permanent existence of Israel” (14). The fact that this has, at least since 1988, included the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) helps bring Carter to the conclusion that “it is Israel that remains the key” to any ultimate peace (ibid.). In other words, it is the Israeli government that must be willing to make the necessary compromises to realize both peace and justice including, as we will see, “conform[ing] to agreements previously consummated–but later renounced” (16). Carter’s story unmistakably suggests that, for those searching for the “missing partner” to the peace process, the place to look is Jerusalem and not Ramallah.
Within the American political milieu, relating this information to a wide audience is just about revolutionary. For anyone familiar with the intimidating power of the Zionist lobby in America it will come as no surprise that Congress, both political parties, and the media have been bought and bullied into uncritical support for the Zionist position at least since 1922 (the year of the first joint congressional resolution in support of the Balfour Declaration). That means President Carter’s book is a milestone event. It is the first time a major American politician has publicly promoted a balanced view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and this marks the author out as a public figure of extraordinary integrity, honesty, and bravery. Embedded in his memoir is a description of the events that led him to take this courageous public stand.
Jimmy Carter’s basic understanding of Israel and Palestine has been religious. As with many other Christian Americans, Carter relates to Israel/Palestine as the “Holy Land.” He tells us that “having studied Bible lessons since childhood and taught them for twenty years, I was infatuated with the Holy Land” (22). However, unlike other Bible reading presidents (Woodrow Wilson for example), Carter’s devoutness has not blinded him to the fact that the Palestinian Arabs are real people with legitimate rights. Thus, when he became President in 1977, his inherently humane understanding of both his faith and his presidential responsibility led him to attempt an even-handed approach to the Israeli-Arab/Palestinian conflict.
Following from his religious perspective, Carter has never doubted Israel’s right to exist. And, upon finishing up his first visit to Israel in 1973, he even concluded that the Israelis, though “dominant” over the Palestinians, where also striving to be “just” (34). On the other hand, he determined that U.S. foreign policy had to be based on the implementation of United Nations resolutions 242 and 338. As Carter notes, these two resolutions led him to conclude that “Israel’s acquisition of territory by force is illegal and that Israel must withdraw from occupied territories” as well as work positively for resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem, if it was to achieve its right to “live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries.” As to Israel’s settlements, Carter remarks that the American position taken up to and through the time of his presidency had been consistent. The settlements were “illegal and obstacles to peace” (38-39). He has not deviated from this position.
Carter’s experiences as a president making a major effort to negotiate a just resolution to this major Middle East crisis fed a growing belief that Israel was actually the recalcitrant party when it came to negotiating peace. Thus, at Camp David Anwar Sadat proved “willing to take bold steps for peace” based on UN resolutions (39). Menachem Begin, on the other hand, was overly cautious and devious. He often acted as if he needed to avoid being trapped or, more likely, was seeking a way to trap others. For instance, Begin could surprise Carter by asserting that he was willing to give the Palestinians “full autonomy,” but when it came to putting promises on paper, Begin went over every word of the final agreement—“he and I spent a lot of time perusing a thesaurus and dictionary” (46). As to Begin’s famous commitment to freeze settlement construction, that was given orally. Both promises turned out to be lies. Carter puts it quite bluntly: “For Menachem Begin, the peace treaty with Egypt was the significant act for Israel, while solemn promises regarding the West Bank and Palestinians would be finessed or deliberately violated” (52). The settlement building was accelerated rather than frozen and there would be no autonomy, much less independence, for the Palestinians. On those subsequent occasions when Carter was received by Begin, the former US president was treated shoddily and Begin would scarcely look him in the eye.
Begin’s duplicitous behavior at Camp David should have alerted the American political and diplomatic establishment that their assumption about Israel’s desire for peace in Palestine was and is essentially wrong. In other words, it was and is a mistake to assume that the Israeli government actually wants a just settlement when it comes to the Palestinians. Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton and, after a fashion, Bush Jr. have tried to move the peace process forward with no success. The Arabs, including the Palestinians, have offered recognition, normalcy and trade in exchange for a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza and a permanent Israeli border at the 1967 line. Israel has rejected all of it. Even the Oslo Accords, wherein the Israelis pledged themselves to “phased withdrawals” from the West Bank never saw them actually do what they promised. There are two conclusions that can be drawn from this history. The first is that successive Israeli governments, when confronted with a choice of land or peace, have said yes to the illegal process of colonizing conquered land and no to peace. In this regard, Begin’s policy after Camp David was a model for most of Israel’s future behavior in Palestinian territory. The second conclusion is that, while it is Zionist ideology that drives the colonization process, it is 40 years of American aid, particularly military aid, pouring into the country regardless of the policies Israel pursues, that has put the Israelis in a position where they can thumb their noses at peace.
Only now, in this book, has Carter taken the unprecedented step of publicly stating the first of these conclusions. Only now do we have a prominent American politician taking seriously Benjamin Natanyahu’s 1996 declaration that he would “never exchange land for peace.” Only now, does an American leader take seriously Ariel Sharon’s infamous command, “Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements because everything we take will stay ours. . . . Everything we don’t grab will go to them” (147). Rather disingenuously, Sharon subsequently declared that “all negotiating failures had been due to the ongoing and escalating Palestinian terrorism” (154). And, as for Ehud Barak’s “generous offer,” only now does an American leader tell us just how ungenerous it really was (150-151). When it comes to the allegedly improved offers at Taba—“the fact is that no such offers were never made” (52). Carter speaks the truth when he tells us that Arafat simply could not have accepted the demeaning and emasculating “generous offer” made at Camp David II and survived as a viable representative of the Palestinian people. Nonetheless, the “official statements from Washington and Jerusalem were successful in placing the entire onus for failure on Yasir Arafat” (152).
The rest of the Jimmy Carter’s book describes the same sad scenarios as played out in the Geneva initiative (rejected by Sharon), the true consequences of the “Gaza Withdrawal” (“besiegement and acute malnutrition”), and the creation of what Carter accurately labels the “imprisonment wall” (174). It also details the continuing purposeful manipulation of the “peace process” (now in the guise of the “Roadmap to Peace”) by Israel. This has been accomplished by the imposition of an “endless series of preconditions that can never be met”, so that no viable Palestinian state will come about (160). Under such circumstances, Palestinian acceptance of Israeli terms simply means surrender to a colonizing conqueror bent on the destruction of Palestinian culture and society.
Carter finally comes to the conclusion that what the Israelis are really aiming at is not peace but apartheid. The Israelis are now imposing “a system of apartheid with two peoples occupying the same land but completely separated from each other, with the Israelis totally dominant and suppressing violence by depriving Palestinians of their basic human rights. This is the policy now being followed . . .” (215). As a result, “it is obvious that the Palestinians will be left with no territory in which to establish a viable state” (196).
In the last chapter Carter tells us that “the only rational response to this continuing tragedy is to revitalize the peace process” (206). The Israelis must honor past agreements such as UN resolution 242 and the promises made at Camp David, and accept the 1967 border “unless modified by mutually agreeable land swaps” (207). The Arabs must guarantee Israeli security within that border. Additionally, the United States must stop “unofficially condoning and abetting Israeli confiscation and colonization of Palestinian territories” (216). He is, at least in theory, correct on all points. The question is if, at this late date, any of this is still really possible? Carter thinks it is. However, it will necessitate an on-going struggle that must take place not only in Israel and Palestine, but also in the U.S.; for it is the United States and its obscenely lavish support of Israel that has made that country’s arrogant and illegal behavior possible.
Kill The Messenger!
When Palestine: Peace not Apartheid was launched Carter announced that “for the last 30 years, I have witnessed and experienced the severe restraints on any free and balanced discussion of the facts. This reluctance to criticize any policies of the Israeli government is because of the extraordinary lobbying efforts of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee [AIPAC] and the absence of any significant contrary voices.” As a result, Carter went on, “It would be almost politically suicidal for members of Congress to espouse a balanced position between Israel and Palestine, to suggest that Israel comply with international law or to speak in defense of justice and human rights for Palestinians. . . . What is even more difficult to comprehend is why the editorial pages of the major newspapers and magazines in the United States exercise self-restraint, quite contrary to private assessments expressed quite forcefully by their correspondents in the Holy Land.”2
Carter has repeated this statement again and again as he travels the country promoting his book. Thus to the charge of apartheid on the part of Israel given in the text, he has added the accusation that the American Zionist establishment and its allies are suppressing information and debate about Israel’s illegal policies. Since the Zionist establishment has behaved this way since 1922, one can be forgiven for interpreting Carter’s words in the worst possible light. That is, while acting as agents of a foreign power (Israel), the AIPAC and its allies have successfully employed insidious lobbying practices toward both politicians and media owners and editors in order to suppress evidence of on-going (post 1967) violations of international law.
America’s Zionist leadership has been predictably aghast at both the appearance of President Carter’s Book and his public accusations. After all, it is not just Menachem Begin who was accused of bad faith here, it was the entire American Zionist movement as well. Therefore, in the blink of an eye, out came the movement’s leaders and representatives to not only discredit the message, but also to kill the messenger.3 For example, Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, has recently spent much of his time defaming Jimmy Carter by accusing him of anti-Semitism—a charge which, normally, is fatal to any ordinary American political figure.4 Jennifer Laszlo-Mizrahi, founder and president of The Israel Project has commented that Carter “has a very clean image, but now he’s selling a very dirty rag.”5 To these we can add attacks made by Martin Peretz, editor and chief of the New Republic, Ethan Bronner, the New York Times deputy foreign editor, and the never silent Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Law professor and professional Zionist bulldog. Dershowitz has called Carter’s book “indefensible,” “shallow and superficial,” and “conveying misinformation, ahistorical facts to American audiences,” and thereby “misleading the court of public opinion.”6 He has also suggested that the former president “has been bought and paid for by Arab money.”7 Dershowitz has dogged Carter’s speaking tour with demands that the former president debate him. Carter has refused, commenting, “There is no need for me to debate someone who, in my opinion, knows nothing about the situation in Palestine.”8 This last point is significant. It can be safely said that none of today’s American Zionist leaders have spent any time in a Palestinian town or city.
Zionist efforts to defame and demean Carter for having the audacity of charging Israel with promoting apartheid and undermining of the peace process can only be taken seriously by those ignorant of the realities of Israel/Palestine. Unfortunately, given the Zionist suppression of information, this includes the vast majority of the American population. Therefore, most readers of Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid will not realize that one can find many well-placed Israeli Jews saying the same things as Carter. Consider the following:
1. Jimmy Carter: Israel is using their “political and military dominance [to] impose a system of partial withdrawal, encapsulation, and apartheid on the Muslim and Christian citizens of the occupied territories.” (189)
A. Shulamit Aloni (Minister of Education under Yitzhak Rabin): “Jewish self-righteousness is taken for granted among ourselves to such an extent that we fail to see what’s right in front of our eyes. It’s simply inconceivable that the ultimate victims, the Jews, can carry out evil deeds. Nonetheless, the state of Israel practices its own, quite violent, form of apartheid with the native Palestinian population.”9
B. Avraham Burg (Speaker of the Knesset from 1999 to 2003): “It turns out that the 2,000 year struggle for Jewish survival comes down to a state of settlements, run an amoral clique of corrupt lawbreakers who are deaf both to their citizens and to their enemies. . . . The Israeli nation today rests on . . . foundations of oppression and injustice.”10
2. Jimmy Carter: “Israel has decided to avoid any peace negotiations and to escape even the mild restraints of the US by taking unilateral actions . . . to carve out for itself the choice portions of the West Bank, leaving the Palestinians destitute within a small and fragmented remnant of their own land.” (210)
A. Dov Weisglass (former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s “closest aide”) referencing the Israel’s “disengagement plan”: “The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process. . . . [It] supplies the formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians. When you freeze the process you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. Effectively . . . a Palestinian state, with all it entails, has been removed from our agenda.”11
3. Jimmy Carter (citing Dr. Hanan Ashrawi): “They [the Israelis] have provoked tremendous violence by acts of incitement like shelling, bombing, house demolition, uprooting trees, destroying crops, assassinating political leaders, placing all Palestinians under closure in a state of total immobility–a prison. And then they wonder why some Palestinians are acting violently.” (P. 154)
A. Shmuel Toledano (former Deputy Director of Mossad): “ The IDF...has lost its morality and military ethics....[It is] soulless and merciless.”12
4. Jimmy Carter: “Palestinian Prime Minister Haniyeh announced that his Hamas government was ‘ready for a dialogue’ with the members of the Quartet, expressed approval of direct Olmert-Abbas peace talks, and said that Hamas would change its rejectionist position if a satisfactory agreement could be consummated and approved by the Palestinian people. Such Palestinian approval was an important facet of the Camp David Accords.” (P. 186)
A. Ephraim Halevy (former Chief of Mossad): “Israel should try to negotiate a long-term truce with Hamas. . . . Such an understanding could be the basis for future negotiations on interim borders between the two entities.”13
5. Jimmy Carter: “‘Imprisonment Wall’ is more descriptive than ‘security fence.’” (P. 174)
A. Meron Benvenisti (Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem 1971 to 1978): “The fence creates three bantustans on the West Bank—Jenin-Nablus, Bethlehem-Hebron and Ramallah....[The result of the fence will be] the imprisonment of 3 million Palestinians in bantustans.”14
One might ask Deshowitz, Foxman, and the rest of this crew the following question, if Carter is an anti-Semite and an Arab stooge for writing and saying what he has, what do they make of those former Israeli officials who have publicly said much the same thing? Are Benvenisti, Halevy, Toledano and Burg “self-hating Jews”? Are they too “bought and paid for by Arab money”? Perhaps Dershowitz, et. al. would, driven by their fanaticism, answer in the affirmative. Apart from confessing that they traffic in slander and lies, that would be the only way they could escape the charge of maintaining double standards, one for the American public scene and the other for Israel. But unless confronted with their hypocrisy, they will avoid the issue of double standards entirely. They know quite well that the debate that goes on in the Israeli media is just what they wish to suppress in the US media. That makes Dershowitz, Foxman, and the rest not defenders of Jews, but rather something akin to Zionist agents seeking to sabotage American free speech and press so as to better maintain the money and equipment necessary for the creation of “bantustans,” the “freezing of the peace process” and the sustaining of an “amoral clique of corrupt lawbreakers.” Those who have the opportunity to confront these hypocrites should point this out.
A Problematic Aspect of the Message
Of course, Jimmy Carter’s book is not perfect. There is at least one questionable aspect of his interpretation of the situation in Israel and Palestine that should be addressed. However, it is not those parts of the text that his critics focus on.
What is problematic about Carter’s interpretation of the present situation is his assumption that the Israeli public’s alleged desire for peace also means that they stand against the apartheid policies of their leaders. Carter tells us that “a majority of Israelis favor withdrawing from Palestinian territory in exchange for peace” and that 62% of Israelis favor “direct talks with Hamas” (211, 185). He quotes Dr. Naomi Chazan of Hebrew University to the effect that “I don’t think any difference now remains between the majority of Israelis and Palestinians in understanding that . . . [there must be an] acknowledgment of the Palestine right of self-determination, and [the need] to make sure that the two-state solution is a just and fair solution . . .” (212-213). At the very end of the book he asserts that “Peace will come to the Israel and the Middle East only when the Israeli government is willing to comply with...the wishes of a majority of its own citizens—and honor its own previous commitments—by accepting its legal borders ” (216). In addition, he has been telling his book tour audiences that, within Israel proper, “democracy prevails and citizens live together and are guaranteed equal status.”15
Do Israel’s Jewish citizens really want peace as badly as Carter suggests? It might well be the case that most Israeli Jews, if you put the polling question to them in the right way, will tell you that they want their leaders to negotiate with the Palestinians and end the decades of war on the basis of a two state solution. This, of course, begs the question that, if most Israelis want this solution so badly, why do they keep electing leaders who will not negotiate in good faith or, for that matter, negotiate at all? And, given that Israel is a parliamentary democracy, why aren’t these leaders turned out of office (rather than reelected) when it becomes repeatedly obvious that they seek to make a two state solution impossible?16
Whatever the complex answers to the above questions might be, it seems clear that the alleged desire for peace does not necessarily mean a rejection of apartheid by Israeli Jews. That is, most Israeli Jews have no real problem with applying an apartheid style regime to those Palestinians that are, now or later, under their control. Thus, in November of 2002 public opinion polls showed that a majority of Israelis favored the proposed “Druckman Law” that would “allow Jews to bar Arabs from living in their communities, and that most Israeli Jews were unwilling to have Israeli Arabs live in their neighborhoods.”17 On June 24, 2004 Haaretz reported that “most Jewish Israelis support transfer of Arabs.”18 In March 2006 the Israel based Center for the Struggle Against Racism reported on a poll that found that 68% of Israeli Jews “would refuse to live in the same [apartment] building as an Arab.”19 And finally, in May of 2006 Israel’s Democracy Index found that “nearly two-thirds of Israelis [Jews] want their government to encourage the country’s Arab minority to emigrate.”20
Such consistent poll and survey figures call into serious question Carter’s assertion, made repeatedly during his book tour, that “I know that Israel is a wonderful democracy with equal treatment of all citizens whether Arab or Jew. And so I am very carefully avoided talking about anything inside of Israel.” Indeed, as Ali Abunimah has observed, in this Carter is wrong, for “discrimination [in Israel] against non-Jewish citizens both informal and legalized is systemic.”21
Conclusion: Carter’s Message for America
This misleading aspect of Carter’s book and public presentations while on tour are, however, minor when compared to the public service he has rendered. This service is twofold. First, as president and mediator, it was Jimmy Carter who, through the precedent he set at Camp David, made a negotiated settlement a demonstrated possibility in the Israeli-Arab/Palestinian conflict. It is to this end that he now strongly emphasizes the need for Israel to “withdraw to the 1967 border as specified in UN resolution 242 and as promised in the Camp David Accords . . .” (215). Second, with Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Carter has broken through the “tremendous intimidation in this country that has silenced our people . . . not just folks running for office, . . . [but] the news media as well” on the issue of Israel and Palestine.22 With Carter’s help, more and more Americans will now have their eyes opened about the warlike and racist behavior of the nation they have so willingly been subsidizing for the last 59 years—a fact that translates into US culpability in the destruction of Palestinian society.
With this knowledge comes responsibility. For Carter, “one of the major goals of my life, while in political office and since I was retired from the White House by the 1980 elecStion, has been to help ensure a lasting peace for Israelis and others in the Middle East” (11). For those who have read and been moved by Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, it is now their responsibility to help him do just that.
1. It cannot be taken for granted that this connection is obvious. For instance, an admission that some Israeli leaders fail to understand that for peace to be lasting, it must entail an element of justice can be found in this quote by Sholomo Ben Ami, Israel’s Foreign Minister in the Barak government and head of the Israeli negotiators at Camp David II. In an interview given in 2002 he stated, “In my view they [the Palestinian leaders] bear the primary quilt for the Palestinian national movement’s obsession with seeking justice instead of a solution.” See, http://www.bitterlemons.org/previous/bl150702ed26.html
2. Jimmy Carter, "Speaking Frankly About Israel and Palestine," Los Angeles Times, 12/8/06.
3. This response is not a new one. In 1926 a Carnegie Institute of Peace report critical of Zionist discrimination against Palestinians was met with much the same sort of hysterical finger pointing and shouting. The same reaction was given to the journalist Vincent Sheen’s critical reporting from Palestine in the late 1920s early 1930s. The State Department’s Near East Division got the same treatment in the 1940s, etc. Historically, the American Zionist establishment has run with the motto, “sois mon frere, ou je te tue—be my brother, or I kill you.” Thus it has known only one way to react to its critics and that is to demean and silence them. See, Lawrence Davidson, America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood (University Press of Florida, 2001).
4. Foxman asserts that “for a man of his stature and supposed savvy to hold forth that the issues of Israel and the Middle East have not been discussed and debated because Jews and Zionists have closed off means of discussion is just anti-Semitism.” See James D. Besser, “Jewish Criticism of Carter Intensifies” in The Jewish Week posted at http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=13420
6. See Norman Finkelstein, "Slime Throwing as 'Debate'" in CounterPunch, 12/29/06.
7. See Alan Dershowitz, “Ex-President for Sale” at: http://www.gather.com/vieweArticlePF.jsp?articleId=281474976879837
9. See Ynet (Hebrew addition), “Aloni: Indeed there is apartheid in Israel.” January 2007 (http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-3346283,00.html The statement was originally published in Yediot Aharonot.
10. Translated by J.J. Goldberg and appeared in the Jewish Forward, 8/28/04. The statement was originally published in Yediot Aharonot.
11. Reprinted in the editorial "Sharon Comes Clean" in the Financial Times (of London) on 10/8/04. The statement was originally published in Haaretz.
12. Cited in Haaretz, August 2004. Http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/461995.html
13. Associated Press, May 26, 2006. Also reported by Haaretz at http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/720295.html
14. Meron Benvenisti, “Bantustan plan for an apartheid Israel,” in Guardian Unlimited, April 25, 2004.
15. Carter, "Speaking Frankly...." LA Times, ibid.
16. Of course, polls of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories have also shown that most favor a two state solution. And, a majority of Palestinians have, until recently, always supported leaders who have been open to negotiation with Israel. It is Israeli recalcitrance that, at least in part, helped win the last Palestinian election for Hamas.
17. Haaretz News Service, "Poll: most Israeli Jews back proposed "Jews-only Land Law," 11/7/02.
18. See http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/441681.html
19. See http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/697458.html
20. Al-Jazeera news report, "Survey: most Israelis want Arabs out," 5/9/06.
21. Cited in Ali Abunimah, “A Palestinian View of Jimmy Carter’s Book,” Wall Street Journal, December 26, 2006. Also posted at http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article6310.shtml
Also see the statement released in 2006 by over 40 Arab-Israeli intellectuals in which they describe Palestinian life in Israel proper as subject to “systematic discrimination.” Http://www.qantara.de/webcom/show_article.php?wc_c476&wc_id=715
22. Cited on Al-Jazeera.net, "Carter defends criticism of Israel, 12/9/06.