Carter's compromised statesmanship

He's written a crude polemic that compromises any pretense to objectivity and fairness.

jimmy carter 88 (photo credit: )
jimmy carter 88
(photo credit: )
Whatever else one might have said about the presidency of Jimmy Carter, he was a statesman. As much as any international figure before or since, he took advantage of the opportunity of the day to advance peace between Israel and her neighbors. Early in his new book president Carter shares his account of the fateful negotiations in 1979. In describing Camp David I and its aftermath, Carter makes clear that he had a warmer relationship with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat than prime minister Menachem Begin. For this he can be forgiven. But it is Carter himself who constantly reminds us in his outlandishly titled book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, of the necessity of being an honest broker in advancing peace. It thus is startling that a former president who prides himself on his ongoing contribution to world peace would write a crude polemic that compromises any pretense to objectivity and fairness. The book's inflammatory title is a case of false advertising, conjuring up comparisons between Israel and Apartheid South Africa, a comparison Carter never makes. South Africa's policies were racial in nature and deprived black subjects of basic rights in their own country. The only just solution was to give blacks full rights in the same state. Carter never claims that Israel is engaging in racially-motivated policies and rightly argues for a two-state solution to the conflict. His use of the word "apartheid" is misleading, referring instead to his view that Israel's security fence and the "honeycomb" of settlements and roads behind it constitute a permanent Israeli control regime over Palestinian life. He neglects to mention that Israel's planned re-deployment from the West Bank would effectively remove such controls. That is precisely what happened in Gaza. Carter leaves out what any reasonable observer, even those that share his basic views of the conflict, would consider obvious facts, but does include stunning distortions. I'll cite just two of the numerous examples of such mendacity. First, discussing president Bill Clinton's peacemaking efforts, Carter discounts well-established claims that Israel accepted and Arafat rejected a generous offer to create a Palestinian state. "The fact is that no final offer was ever made," Carter asserts. To prove his point, he disingenuously cites a quote of then-prime minister Ehud Barak that there were "no negotiations" but "non-binding contacts" at the later stage talks in Taba. Barak made this statement in order to cut his political losses during an election, and to preclude the Palestinians from pocketing yet more concessions for future negotiations. Moreover, anyone who read Clinton's account of the post-Camp David negotiations knows that he offered final "parameters" that substantially sweetened the pot for the Palestinians and met Carter's own stated standards for a fair settlement. "I brought the Palestinian and Israeli teams into the cabinet room and read them my 'parameters' for negotiations," wrote Clinton. "In December the parties had met at Bolling Airforce Base for talks that didn't succeed because Arafat wouldn't accept the parameters that were hard for him." Carter must have known this history. But he conveniently ignores it in his book, leaving the reader to think that Barak's quote was the final commentary on the matter. In another manifest distortion, Carter states that Israel plans to build a security fence "along the Jordan River, which is now planned as the eastern leg of the encirclement of the Palestinians." Once again, any informed observer knows that Israel has modified the projected route of the security fence on numerous occasions (the current route roughly tracks the parameters that Clinton advanced to the parties in negotiations) and that there is no plan to hem the Palestinians in on the eastern border. Again, Carter overlooks these well-known developments, leaving readers to think that a route that was once contemplated in proposed maps but never adopted or acted upon represents current reality. The extent that Carter goes in propping up an extreme version of the Palestinian narrative, and in burying and devaluing any trace of the Israeli and American versions of events, is deeply disappointing. In accepting the Palestinian narrative, Carter has conveniently revised history, excused the Palestinians for their tragic failure to come to terms with Israel each time the chance presented itself, and blithely ignored Israel's very legitimate security concerns. Many Israelis, including those that once greatly admired his role in fostering peace with Egypt, may never again trust Carter's diplomacy, including his vaunted role as an election monitor. He can no longer claim to be an honest broker. This book will not help the cause of peace, and with its publication, the world has lost a statesman at a time when one is most needed. The writer, based in New York, is executive director of the American Jewish Committee.