Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid
By Jimmy Carter
Simon & Schuster, $25.00, 288 pp.
If there is one word with which Jimmy Carter would like to be identified, it is “peacemaker.” After all, he helped broker the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel -- the main and, some cynics might add, the only accomplishment of his presidency. In addition, he has long engaged in second-track diplomacy efforts in places such as Haiti and North Korea. The Carter Center, the research and activist institution founded by the president in 1982 to “wage peace,” has monitored elections around the world and provided forums to discuss peacemaking strategies. Peace is his profession.
But the Jimmy Carter that emerges from his latest work, the polemical Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, is not so much a peacemaker as an anti-Israel propagandist. Replete with references that recall the painful history of Christian anti-Semitism, this book is clearly intended to convince America's Christian community not to support Israel. In recalling his first visit to Israel, for instance, Carter claims that Samaritan allegations of disrespect by Israeli authorities were “the same complaints heard by Jesus and his disciples almost two thousand years earlier.”
Ironically, while Carter devotes much space to spurious claims of Israeli discrimination against the Christian Palestinian population, he nowhere sees fit to mention the serious -- and well-documented -- charges of abuses of Christians by the Palestinian Authority and Islamic radicals such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Elsewhere in the book, Carter takes a slightly different tack to arrive at the same anti-Israel conclusion. Acknowledging that his views are shaped by his fundamentalist Christianity, Carter blames Israel for its secular character. He recalls a conversation in 1967 with Golda Meir in which he "said that I had long taught lessons from the Hebrew Scriptures and that a common historical pattern was that Israel was punished whenever the leaders turned away from devout worship of God. I asked if she was concerned about the secular nature of her Labor government." Carter’s hypocrisy on this score is stunning. Recall that this is the same Jimmy Carter who in his previous book, Our Endangered Values, bemoaned that the United States had spiraled into “theocracy” and railed against American religious “fundamentalists,” tearing down the separation of church and state. As always with Carter, Israel is held to a different standard.
Apart from its perverse moral judgments, Carter's tome is factually shoddy. For instance, Carter accuses Israel of occupying portions of Lebanon -- seven years after Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. Equally false is Carter’s claim that Israel retains "its presence only in Shebaa Farms." Even Kofi Annan, hardly a friend of Israel, noted in 2004 that Israel was not occupying Lebanon. A 2005 report by the UN Security Council similarly noted that the “blue line,” which does not include the Shebaa Farm area, serves as Lebanon's border and recognizes that Israel is in compliance with all United Nations resolutions calling for a withdrawal to Lebanon's international border. Carter's defense of Hezbollah's claims of Lebanese sovereignty over the Shebaa Farms area is thus in direct defiance of international law and numerous statements from the United Nations.
Carter’s grasp of geographical reality does not improve throughout the book. Time and again he refers to the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, and, at times, even parts of the pre-1967 borders of Israel as "Arab territories." Yet, there has been a Jewish presence in Jerusalem and the West Bank since Biblical times – for thousands of years. Carter's labeling of the territories as "occupied Arab territories" is unbalanced and misleading. While there is also an Arab claim to the territories, it is no stronger than the Jewish claim. At the same time, Carter seems to accept at face value the Islamic concept of "dar al-Islam" in which any land that was under Muslim rule is always Muslim property.
It only gets worse. In a recollection of Carter's first meeting with Yasser Arafat in France in 1990, Carter claims that he "pushed him [Arafat] to fulfill his Oslo promise to modify the PLO charter to accept Israel's existence.” Yet the Oslo Accords were not signed until September 1993. How could Carter push Arafat to modify commitments that he would not make until three years later? Carter also seems to have the ability to communicate with the dead. In recalling his monitoring of the 1996 Palestinian elections, Carter claims that he "called General Dayan" to report on alleged intimidation of voters in East Jerusalem. Just one problem: Moshe Dayan died in 1981.
If Carter is able to make such blatant errors in his book, one can’t help but wonder how many other false statements he has made. Indeed, Carter himself acknowledges that some of his claims are false, including his inflammatory -- and inaccurate -- use of the term “apartheid.” Since the book’s release, Carter has publicly acknowledged in numerous forums that the term "apartheid" is not an accurate term to describe Israel and its thriving democracy. In a recent letter responding to his critics, Carter noted that "in Israel ... a democracy exists with all the freedoms we enjoy in our country [the United States] and Israeli Jews and Arabs are legally guaranteed the same rights as citizens." If only Carter had shown such concern for the factual record when writing the book, he may have been spared the embarrassment of defending its innumerable falsehoods.
When he isn’t misrepresenting the facts, Carter defends human rights abuses and abusers. Roundly critical of Israel, Carter has little to say about Syria's long history as a dictatorship that represses its own people. Despite Hafez al-Assad's refusal to visit the United States due to an invitation from Carter in a "polite but firm rebuff," Carter describes him as "very intelligent, eloquent, and frank." He often has very positive things to say about dictators, but Israel's democratically elected leadership does not earn his approval. Carter spends several pages defending Saudi Arabia and idealizing it as the real-life incarnation of Arabian Nights. When he mentions that, on one visit, he went off with the men while his wife "was whisked off to visit Saudi women, who were in a different camp entirely, over the sand dunes and out of sight," his charmed account of the Saudi regime's gender segregation leaves the reader wondering whether Carter really is committed to human rights in the Middle East.
The official policy of the State of Israel has always been a two-state solution. As Carter notes, survey after survey shows that Israelis yearn for peace. From the dovish Meretz to the hawkish Yisrael Beiteinu and National Union parties, Israelis have supported territorial compromise in exchange for secure and defensible borders. They look forward to the day when courageous Arab leaders will come forward as partners for peace. As a former president once noted, "the majority of Israelis sincerely want a peaceful existence with their neighbors." As it happens, that president was Jimmy Carter. But one wouldn’t know it from this one-sided, ill-informed and downright malicious book.
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