Jimmy Carter was not a very memorable US president, but he does have one major accomplishment to his name. In 1978 he brought together Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin and brokered the Camp David Accords,that brokered peace between israel and egypt which led to Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai and a peace treaty between the
Jimmy Carter was not a very memorable US president, but he does have one major accomplishment to his name. In 1978 he brought together Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin and brokered the Camp David Accords,that brokered peace between israel and egypt which led to Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai and a peace treaty between the two countries. This was a major achievement, for which Carter rightly shared the credit with Sadat and Begin.
It’s a great pity, therefore, that Carter has published a silly and wrong-headed book about the Israel-Palestinian conflict, under the title Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. This book will seriously and permanently damage his reputation for statesmanship. It’s a one-sided diatribe against Israel, heaping all the blame for the continuing conflict in the Middle East on the Jewish state. The New York Times, often critical of Israel, review argued: ‘hollow statements by Israel’s enemies are presented without comment. Broader regional developments go largely unexamined.’
Carter claims that he wrote the book to “provoke discussion and analysis and debate.” If that was his intention, he has done a very bad job of it. If Carter really wanted to promote discussion, he might have started off by not insulting the state of Israel, and Jews generally, by the use of the word “apartheid” in the book’s title. This is a false,offensive analogy, particularly to the very many Jews who spent their younger years campaigning against apartheid in South Africa.
Apartheid was a system of racial separation based on the view that whites were superior to blacks. It was a system which denied South African blacks all political and civil rights. Carter argues that because Israel has built a security barrier between Israel and the occupied West Bank, this amounts to building an “apartheid wall” to subjugate the Palestinians.
Carter totally ignores the fact that the barrier does not separate Jews from Arabs, and that Israel does not practise racial segregation. There are 1.4 million Arabs living in Israel, where they enjoy full political rights – there are 13 Arabs in the Knesset, one in the current cabinet, and one on the Supreme Court bench. Is this apartheid?
In fact the West Bank barrier was built only as a measure of last resort to stem the wave of homicidal bombings directed at Israel from the Palestinian territories. If there had been no campaign of bombings, there would be no barrier. Carter rails against the “apartheid wall,” but calls the suicide ombings “unfortunate for the peace process.”
Describing the calculated murder of over a thousand Israeli civilians by suicide bombers as “unfortunate,” while comparing Israel’s defensive measures against this campaign as “apartheid,” shows a serious moral blindness, not to mention complete lack of sympathy for Israel and its people. The barrier has saved countless lives leading to a 90% reduction in deaths of civilians from Islamic fanatics with explosive belts, both Israeli and Palestinian, something Carter seems not to care about.
It seems that Carter has been brooding for years about the lack of progress on the Palestinian issue after the 1978 Accords. He is of course not alone in this, but in Carter’s case his resentment against Menachem Begin’s hardline policies seem to have turned into a one sided dislike of Israel, and of Israel’s supporters in the US.
Bill Clinton, a far more significant president, is a ghost in this book. A striking feature of the book is the way Carter completely ignores the Oslo peace process and the offer of a Palestinian state made by Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton to the Palestinians at Camp David in 2000, which Arafat rejected. Saudi Prince Bundar described Arafat’s refusal as a “crime”. Carter seems to think the history of peace mediation in the Middle East stopped when he left office in 1981. This Rip Van Winkle mentality permeating this book is partly a product of Carter’s vanity.
Since Carter wants to blame all the troubles of the region on Israel, he cannot concede that any responsibility rests with Arafat for rejecting the best offer the camp david offer Palestinians were ever likely to get. Nor can he criticise the Palestinians for electing Hamas, not Israel which has brought civil war, internecine conflicts with Israel and daily rocket attacks despite a unilateral Israeli decision not to respond. Nor can he acknowledge that Israel has withdrawn from both Lebanon and Gaza, only to see both places used as bases for further attacks on Israel. To be fair Carter apologised at a recent Brandeis University speech for the notorious lines at p213 which condones Palestinian terrorism.
There are plenty of criticisms to be made of Israeli policies, past and present, and of Israel’s presence of the Palestinian Territories despite the fact its further withdrawal from the West Bank has been stymied by Palestinian rocket attacks on Sderot and Ashkelon. But the fundamental fact which Carter ignores is that the Palestinian leadership, backed by Syria and Iran, still aims to destroy the state of Israel . Readers of The Age/SMH Middle East Correspondent, Ed O’Loughlin would never read of this prevailing Palestinian attitude in his reports, but as long as the Palestinians retain their eliminationist platform and refuse to give up terrorism peace cannot progress.
Concessions of the kind Carter wants, can’t be made even by the most left-wing incarnation of Israel Democracy. Carter’s failure to acknowledge this basic fact, which seems to derive mainly from vanity and resentment, fatally undermines his pretensions to be a voice for “discussion and analysis” of the Middle East conflict.
- Michael Danby (February 2007)