Books

President Carter’s Book on Palestine

Book: Palestine Peace Not Apartheid
Author: Jimmy Carter
Publishers: Simon & Schuster, New York
Year: 2006


By Habib Siddiqui 

No American president has probably touched the lives of so many people in a positive way than Jimmy Carter - the 39th president. For the past three decades, since leaving the White House, he has been a resolute voice for human rights and democracy. It was for such activism in the world arena that the Nobel Committee honored him as the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2002, the only U. S. President to have received the Prize after leaving office.

President Carter is very vocal about the Palestine-Israel conflict and believes that the USA has a strong role in any peace effort involving the Middle East. Is America ready to play its historic role for peace-making? Can it be trusted by all the parties to the dispute? President Carter’s book “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid” makes it abundantly clear that America has failed in that task rather miserably. Still, his observation is right. After all, the USA has been Israel’s greatest benefactor since the Jewish state was recognized by President Truman. Had it not been for America’s economic aid and security guarantees, plus the abuse of the veto power inside the UN Security Council, the rogue state would have long been a distant memory, much like the short- lived Crusader state in the 12th century.

Most people would have hard time realizing that in spite of such blind (and often criminal) support, rendered by the USA, the official US policy in matters relating to the Palestine-Israel conflict is predicated on a few key UN Security Council resolutions, notably 242 of 1967 and 338 of 1973. In his book, Carter says, “Approved unanimously and still applicable, their basic premise is that Israel’s acquisition of territory by force is illegal and Israel must withdraw from occupied territories. More specifically, U. S. policy was that Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza were “illegal and obstacles to peace.”” (pp. 38-39). Israel, however, has always put confiscation of Palestinian land ahead of peace. It was these illegal settlement activities during the Bush Sr. administration that provoked an official White House statement: “The United States has opposed, and will continue to oppose, settlement activity in territories occupied in 1967, which remain an obstacle to peace.” Former State Secretary Baker even added, “I don’t think there is any greater obstacle to peace than settlement activity that continues not only unabated but at an advanced pace.” (pp. 131-2)  After Carter’s presidency ended, there was no sustained American leadership in the Middle East peace process until the Gulf War against Iraq in the spring of 1991, when Secretary Baker made several trips to the region. During Clinton-era there was a 90% growth in the number of settlers in the occupied territories, with the greatest increase during the administration of Prime Minister Ehud Barak. By the end of the year 2000, Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza numbered 225,000. The best offer to the Palestinians - by Clinton, not Barak - had been to withdraw 20% of the settlers, leaving more than 180,000 in 209 settlements, covering about 10% of the occupied land, including land to be “leased” and portions of the Jordan River valley and East Jerusalem. (pp. 150-1)

In April 2003 a “Roadmap” for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was announced by U. N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on behalf of the US, the UN, Russia and the EU (known as the Quartet). This was before George W. Bush invaded Iraq. Annan stated, “Such a settlement, negotiated between the parties, will result in the emergence of an independent, democratic Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors. The settlement will end the occupation that began in 1967, based on the Madrid Conference terms of reference and the principle of land for peace, UNSC Resolutions 242, 338 and 1397, agreements previously reached by the parties, and the Arab initiative proposed by the Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and endorsed by the Arab Summit in Beirut.” (p. 159) As we all know, the Palestinians accepted the roadmap in its entirety, but the Israeli government announced 14 caveats and prerequisites, some of which would preclude any final peace talks. According to Carter, “The practical result of all this is that the Roadmap for Peace has become moot, with only two results: Israel has been able to use it as a delaying tactic with an endless series of preconditions that can never be met, while proceeding with plans to implement its unilateral goals.” (p. 160)

In October 2003, seeing no progress with the “Roadmap”, with involvement of the Carter Center, a final draft for a new initiative was concluded, which was later disclosed by Carter in Geneva. A majority of the Israelis and Palestinians approved the Geneva principles, despite strong opposition from some top political leaders. Sharon condemned the Geneva Initiative and there was silence from the White House, but Secretary Powell supported the Initiative and met with key negotiators - Yasser Abed Rabbo and Beilin. (p. 167) Later George W. Bush, a born-again Christian, mindful of not repeating his father’s “mistakes” (in chiding the Jewish state), had no interest in any peaceful resolution of the conflict.

According to Carter, from September 2000 until March 2006 (before the book went for publication), some 3,982 Palestinians and 1,084 Israelis were killed in the second Intifada and these numbers include many children: 708 Palestinians and 123 Israelis (p. 206). President GW Bush shares great responsibility for letting such massacre to continue.

In the popular Jewish-owned western media the Palestinians, and their political leadership, are portrayed as the “bad guys,” who aspire to drive the Jews into the sea and reject the two-state formula. President Carter discloses that in a 1990 meeting the PLO chief Yasir Arafat stated, “The PLO has never advocated the annihilation of Israel. The Zionists started the ‘drive the Jews into the sea’ slogan and attributed it to the PLO. In 1969 we said we wanted to establish a democratic state where Jews, Christians and Muslims can all live together. The Zionists said they do not choose to live with any people other than Jews… We said to the Zionist Jews, all right, if you do not want a secular, democratic state for all of us, then we will take another route. In 1974 I said we are ready to establish our independent state in any part from which Israel will withdraw.” (p. 62)

In the popular western media, Israel is portrayed as a model state with equal rights for all its citizens. However, facts are much uglier. It remains the last of the apartheid states in our world. During his many trips to Israel, President Carter met with local Palestinians who emphasized that they were deprived of their most basic human rights. They claimed that that any demonstration against Israeli abuses resulted in mass arrests of Palestinians, including children throwing stones, bystanders who were not involved, families of protesters, and those known to make disparaging statements about the occupation. Once incarcerated, they had little hope for a fair trial and often had no access to their families or legal counsel. Most of these cases were tried in military tribunals, but 90% of the inmates were being held in civilian jails. One of the attorneys told, “Here there is one system under civil judges and another under the military. Most of our cases, no matter what the subject might be, fall under the military. They are our accusers, judges, and juries, and they all seem the same to us.” (pp. 118-9)

The apartheid character of the Israeli state is too visible through its persecution and harassment of the Palestinian people. International human rights organizations estimate that since 1967 more than 630,000 Palestinians (about 20%) of the total population) in the occupied territories have been detained at some time by the Israelis. According to President Carter, in addition to time in jail, the pre-trial periods can be quite lengthy. Palestinian detainees can be interrogated under special laws for a total of 180 days and denied lawyer visits for intervals of 90 days. Accused persons are usually in military courts in the West Bank, and incarcerated in prisons inside Israel, in violation of the 4th Geneva Convention. (pp. 196-7)

A reading of Carter’s book reveals that the US government, far from being an honest peace-broker, has actually aided in strengthening Israel’s apartheid character. As to the reality of settlements in the West Bank, Carter observes, “It is obvious that the Palestinians will be left with no territory to establish a viable state, but completely enclosed within the barrier and the occupied Jordan River valley. The Palestinians will have a future impossible for them or any responsible portion of the international community to accept, and as Israel’s permanent status will be increasingly troubled and uncertain as deprived people fight oppression and the relative number of Jewish citizens decreases demographically (compare to Arabs) both within Israel and Palestine.” (p. 196)

Carter concludes, “Peace will come to Israel and the Middle East only when the Israeli government is willing to comply with international law… It will be a tragedy - for the Israelis, the Palestinians, and the world - if peace is rejected and a system of oppression, apartheid, and sustained violence is permitted to prevail.” (p. 216).

Palestine Peace Not Apartheid is a courageous work of a man who is sincere about finding peace in one of the most troubled areas of our world. President Carter has visited the Occupied Territories many times and has firsthand knowledge about America’s failed and half-hearted diplomatic initiatives in the Middle East. I strongly recommend this book to anyone serious about understanding the root of the Palestine- Israel conflict and the fallacy of the American ‘balanced’ diplomacy in the Middle East.

The reviewer is a peace and human rights activist, and chairman of the Board of Directors of the Bangladesh Expatriate Council, USA. He may be contacted at saeva@aol.com

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 December 2010 on page no. 27

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