Indicting Israel

With a wink and nod from the White House, Carter claims, Israel continues to control and colonize Palestinian land in the name of "national security," seizing the choicest real estate in the W. Bank and holding almost 10,000 Arab prisoners.

carter holding book 88 2 (photo credit: AP)
carter holding book 88 2
(photo credit: AP)
Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid By Jimmy Carter Simon & Schuster 264 pages $27 Near the top of Jimmy Carter's list of his accomplishments as president of the United States is the Camp David Accord of 1978. Signed by Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin and ratified by their governments, the agreement called on Israel to pull out of a demilitarized Sinai peninsula. Egypt and Israel also promised to comply with UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, including Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories. More than a quarter of a century after Camp David, Carter believes, honoring this commitment - along with a guarantee of Israel's right to exist within recognized borders and the cessation of bombs, missile attacks, assassinations and other acts of violence by Palestinian militants - provides the blueprint for peace with justice. In a volatile, violent region, teeming with radicals and rejectionists, peace-making is difficult to sustain. And in recent years, Carter asserts in Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, a blunt book aimed at an American audience, the US has abandoned its role as a trusted and evenhanded "honest broker" in the Middle East. Since actions of the Israeli government are rarely questioned, let alone criticized, in the halls of Congress or the mainstream media, he suggests, most Americans are unaware of the grim realities in the occupied territories. With a wink and nod from the Bush White House, Carter claims, Israel has continued to control and colonize Palestinian land in the name of "national security," seizing the choicest real estate in the West Bank and holding almost 10,000 Arab prisoners. These illegal actions "have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land." And the US is squandering its international prestige and nurturing global terrorism every time it vetoes a Security Council resolution critical of Israel. Palestine provides a relentless critique of the Israeli occupation and settlements. On his first visit to Israel in 1973, before the Yom Kippur War, Carter recalls, there were 1,500 settlers in the occupied territories. Already, they were diverting water from the Jordan River to irrigate their crops. Presciently, Abba Eban told Carter that the settlements were a burden, not an asset. Carter's "natural presumption" was that they would be dismantled as part of a comprehensive peace agreement. Five years later, he saw Camp David as the first step. He now regrets that he did not get a written pledge from Begin to freeze settlements during the negotiations on autonomy for the Palestinian people. And his failure to realize that Begin was less interested in a comprehensive peace than in removing Egypt from the military equation in the Middle East. Soon after the prime minister returned to Israel, the Likud began to subvert the spirit, if not the letter, of the accords. The proper homeland for Palestinians was Jordan, Yitzhak Shamir suggested. And Ariel Sharon declared that the east bank of the Jordan "is ours but not in our hands, just as east Jerusalem had been until the Six Day War." By the year 2000, with support from Labor and the Likud, 225,000 settlers lived in the West Bank and Gaza. Although by no means original, Carter's indictment of Israel is cogent, even compelling. Human rights, he insists, are routinely violated in the occupied territories. Almost half of the Palestinian homes demolished by Israel were never occupied by anyone suspected of violence. Demonstrations result in mass arrests with little chance of a fair trial - and Palestinians cannot get transportation to hospitals, even if they have been critically injured. Foreign aid directed to the Palestinians is intercepted by Israel. And the Israeli-built "security fence" divides Palestinians from their gardens, farmland, jobs and family members, generating poverty and malnutrition comparable to conditions in sub-Saharan Africa. Ironically, Carter himself has made it less likely that his assessment of Israeli policies - and the complicity of the United States in them - will get a full and fair hearing. In Palestine, he has provided ample evidence for allegations that he is anything but evenhanded. Carter's use of the term "apartheid" in the subtitle of the book is gratuitously provocative, especially since he refers to it only briefly in the text. With the exception of Ezer Weizman, Carter portrays every leader of Israel, including Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak, as inflexible and intransigent. Perhaps most telling is Carter's decision to include a story about the Israeli soldiers who accompanied him while he was jogging - and without provocation ran into a group of elderly Arab men as they sat on the curb reading newspapers. No comparable narrative of malicious acts by Fatah, Hamas or Hizbullah appear in his book. Even more troubling is his decision to give Arab leaders a platform in Palestine without challenging or rebutting their views. Carter lets stand Hafez Assad's assertion that Syria "recognized Lebanon's independence without equivocation." And then concludes that Assad "might be sufficiently independent and flexible to modify his political tactics to accommodate changing times and circumstances." He mentions, only fleetingly, Assad's "reputation for ruthlessness" and the "alleged corruption" of Yasser Arafat's PLO. While Carter skewers Israel's response to Kofi Annan's "road map," Ariel Sharon's summary rejection of the Geneva Initiative and Ehud Olmert's refusal to negotiate with Mahmoud Abbas even if he made a good faith effort to disarm radical Palestinian groups, he seems impressed by the Arab League peace plan of 2002, which he includes in an appendix, and has "little doubt" that following an accommodation with the Palestinians, Arab leaders will recognize Israel and "make a commitment to restrain further violence." Peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Carter concludes, may pose "as difficult a political prospect as history has ever seen." It will take mediation by someone who is - and is perceived to be - impartial and wise. With the power to bring the horses to water and make them drink. Unfortunately, as Palestine demonstrates, sometimes inadvertently, such Solomons are in short supply on the world stage. The writer is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin professor of American studies at Cornell University.