Analysis: Carter - there he goes again

His meetings with Hamas leaders confirm detachment from reality that was the making of his downfall.

carter ramallah 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
carter ramallah 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
In a defining moment of the 1980 US presidential election, incumbent Jimmy Carter - in his only debate with Republican contender Ronald Reagan - accused Reagan of opposing a national health insurance program that would place emphasis on disease prevention, outpatient care, hospital cost containment and cutting down on catastrophic costs. "Governor Reagan, again, typically is against such a proposal," Carter said. Reagan, apparently waiting for that moment, shook his head, cast Carter a condescending smile and then coined a phrase that entered into American political lore: "There you go again." What Reagan packed into those four simple words was the feeling that Carter, who was approaching the end of his four-year term, was just rambling along, detached from reality. It was a feeling that resonated well with the American public, which soundly turned Carter out of office a week after that late-October debate. One couldn't help think of that line while listening to Carter sum up his recent trip to the Mideast at a speech he gave in Jerusalem on Monday to the Israel Council on Foreign Relations. As Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz said on Israel Radio, Carter - with all due respect to the peace treaty he brokered between Israel and Egypt 30 years ago - is "detached from reality." Excerpts of the speech testify to this detachment. • Carter said that among the tentative conclusions from his visit was that "both Israelis and Palestinians share the view that the peace negotiations are not making progress and are unlikely to succeed." Fair enough. But then the Democratic former president went on to say that the Palestinians were convinced that the Israeli government was delaying negotiations because it was "[more] focused on interests in expanding settlements than in making peace." • When hope for peace declines, Carter said, frustration increases. The problem with Carter's approach is that he only focuses on Palestinian frustration, and seems to dismiss Israeli frustration with the fact that, even as negotiations continue, terrorism rages. Despair is not a one way street. Carter is forgetting that, in the mid-1990s, during the Oslo-process heyday, there was great hope among Israelis that the country had finally been accepted in the region, and that if Israel would only just give, it would get peace in return. Prime minister Ehud Barak went to Camp David in 2000, and was willing to relinquish some 95 percent of the territories and much of Jerusalem. But what Israel got was the worst terrorism in its history. Talk about frustration. • To prove that the current negotiations were not going anywhere, Carter invoked comments made to that effect last week by PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Moscow, leaving the distinct impression that Israel was to blame. But why place the onus for lack of movement on Israel's doorstep? Maybe, just maybe, it is not Israeli intransigence, but Palestinian intransigence that is holding up the works. Carter never seemed to entertain that notion. • Carter said that not only was there no progress on final status issue negotiations now, but that there was "regression on the road map." The regression he spelled out was "more settlements announced and are being expanded [in fact, there hasn't been an announcement of more settlements, only tenders to build in Ma'aleh Adumim and Givat Ze'ev, and in neighborhoods in east Jerusalem]; more roadblocks and checkpoints have gone up; and Gaza is isolated like a prison." He then appeared to balance that off by saying that "according to [US] General [Keith] Dayton, there has been progress in the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority in the training of security forces," a statement clearly designed to leave the impression that whereas Israel was not fulfilling its road map commitments, the Palestinians were. Please. The road map calls for consistent, serious attempts by the Palestinians to foil terrorism against Israelis anywhere. Does anybody really believe that is happening? To create the impression that Israel is violating the road map, while the Palestinians are living up to it, is nonsense. Both Israeli and US diplomatic officials have said that General William Fraser, the US road map referee, has told both sides that they are not fulfilling their commitments under the document. Carter, however, finds it fit only to talk about Israel. Also, if one wants to talk about road map regression, the fall of Gaza into the hands of Hamas, which carries out terrorism on a daily basis, would not be a bad place to start. As to Carter's characterization of Gaza as a "prison": He fails to give any context - as if those evil Israelis just want the Gazans to suffer, not saying that Gaza has been isolated in an attempt to get Hamas to stop firing missiles on Israeli civilians, kidnap soldiers or place car bombs at crossings where fuel and humanitarian assistance can be funneled into the region. • Carter, like many before him, spelled out five interlocking conflicts in the region: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; the intra Palestinian conflict; Syria-Israel; Lebanon; and Iran's growing influence. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said, "lies at the center of other crises or challenges in the Middle East." Does it? Will solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict solve the battle between the extremists and moderates in Lebanon? Will it genuinely solve the Issue of Iran's growing influence, its push for Middle East hegemony and nuclear arms? • Carter posited as a given that "all of Israel's neighbors believe they have much at stake in the success of the negotiations." He said that Egypt "is mediating between Hamas and Israel, and Saudi Arabia and Jordan have played key roles in assisting in the peace process." Ok, grant that Jordan and Egypt are playing key roles. But Saudi Arabia? What key role, exactly, is it playing? The US and Israel were dying for the Saudi king to make one gesture to Israel in support of the negotiations either before, during or just after Annapolis, to give the process legitimization on the Arab street and boost the Israeli public's confidence in what awaits at the end - and the king balked. So much for a key Saudi role. • Carter said that his meeting with Hamas representatives from the West Bank, Gaza and Damascus brought about one change: "They said that they would accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 border if approved by Palestinians - a departure from longstanding Hamas doctrine that refused to recognize two states." Shortly after that declaration, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri in Gaza told AP that Hamas's readiness to put a peace deal to a referendum "does not mean that Hamas is going to accept the result of the referendum." Unwittingly, perhaps, it was Abu Zuhri's way of saying about Carter what Reagan said all those years ago: There he goes again.