Jimmy Carter Defends 'Peace Not Apartheid'

Cover of 'Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid'

A Carter Critic Speaks

Emory history professor Keneth W. Stein speaks about his disagreements with former President Carter.

Former President Jimmy Carter finds himself in a defensive posture after criticism of his new book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid. The best-seller has generated a passionate response in critics who say it is slanted toward Palestinians, and full of inaccuracies.

Since the book was published, Carter says he has been branded an anti-Semite and a bigot. Reaction to the book included the resignation of 14 members of a Carter Center community board, who say Carter puts too much blame on Israel.

Carter responded to those charges at Brandeis University this week, where he was later rebutted by Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz.

In that appearance, the former president defended the book's accuracy, save one passage Carter now calls "terribly worded," that seemed to justify terrorism by Palestinians on Israeli citizens.

Carter says he was not completely surprised that his choice of the word "apartheid" in the book's title garnered criticism.

Yet Carter says he hopes his book will raise awareness about conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank.

Here's the conversation with Steve Inskeep in full:

Mr. President, perhaps I could begin with the title of your book, which has caused a bit of debate. Could you just make, briefly, the best case you can for why "apartheid" is the best word to use?

Well, I'll try to make a perfect case. Apartheid is a word that is an accurate description of what has been going on in the West Bank, and it's based on the desire or avarice of a minority of Israelis for Palestinian land. It's not based on racism. Those caveats are clearly made in the book. This is a word that's a very accurate description of the forced separation within the West Bank of Israelis from Palestinians and the total domination and oppression of Palestinians by the dominant Israeli military.

Why not just describe that rather than bring in this word that's freighted with so much history from another place?

It would be hard to give that definition that I've just given you in a title of a book. The book is quite descriptive.

Would you describe for us, simply because the book has been criticized for its details, how did you write the book?

How did I write it? On a word processor, a computer. I wrote every word myself. I never have had any co-authors. I based it on my, you might say, 33 years of experience. Even after I left office, I traveled extensively in the Middle East. I doubt that any other prominent human being has been blessed with such a great opportunity, as I have, to actually know what's going on there.

You've been challenged in your recollection of meetings for example with Hafez al-Assad, the one-time president of Syria, and it's been alleged that your description of Assad makes him look more reasonable and makes the Israelis look less reasonable than what might actually have been the case. What was your version based on? Did you go back to notes and other documents that you had from the time?

Of course, I began meeting with Hafez al-Assad, who is now deceased as you know, back when I was president. I think back in back in 1977 in May or June. I have forgotten exactly which, but I met with him, trying to get him to support a peace process. On one occasion he invited me to meet with him and his entire family, and I met all his children and got to know them. One of them was a college student who is now the president of Syria.

But when you recollect, for example, your 1990 meeting with him, at which you asked about the Golan Heights, how that dispute might be settled with Israel, were you working from your own notes?

Of course, from my own notes, and my wife takes notes when I'm there and we have been very careful to make sure that all those descriptions are accurate.

Ken Stein, as you know, a former colleague of yours at the Carter Center, has alleged that his recollection of that meeting is somewhat different.

Ken Stein was a professor that I took along with me. Ken has attended some of the meetings with me. The more highly sensitive meetings I was the only one there except my wife to take notes.

Oh, you're saying that he did not go to all the meetings that you went to?

Of course, that's right.

There's also been some criticism, which you addressed this week at Brandeis University, of a sentence on page 213 of your book.

That was a terribly worded sentence which implied, obviously in a ridiculous way, that I approved terrorism and terrorist acts against Israeli citizens.

The sentence said that Palestinians and Arabs in general should end suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism, when international laws and the ultimate goals of the roadmap are accepted by Israel?

The "when" was obviously a crazy and stupid word. My publishers have been informed about that and have changed the sentence in all future editions of the book.

Has that sent you flipping through the pages of the book to see if there is anything else there that wasn't expressed the way you had intended?

I don't believe so.

You mentioned that you have been labeled an anti-Semite. You do use the word apartheid in the title of your book, which defenders of Israel regarded as a label that called into a lot of bad associations. Whether you agree with any specific charge there, would you agree that kind of labeling is not very productive?

I think it's productive. I had two basic hopes for this book. One, that it would stimulate peace talks. Second, that it would reveal for the first time, to the American public, the horrible oppression and persecution of the Palestinian people and it would precipitate for the first time any substantive debate on these issues.

One other thing, Mr. President, one of the fascinating parts of this book to me is an area that has not been as controversial. It's one of the earlier passages in which you describe a time when you were governor of Georgia and you were invited to Israel by the government of Israel to look around, and you ended up standing on the banks of the Jordan River. Could describe what you did there and how that affected you?

I was given complete freedom to go where I wished. There was a security border along the Jordan River. There was a gate, and I got permission from one of the guards and I waded out in the Jordan River at the same site that I felt from my own knowledge of Christianity, that Jesus Christ was baptized. So, we just immersed ourselves in the culture and biblical history, and current political affairs of Israel in that visit.

If I may read a sentence from that passage, you write: "at the end of this visit, we left convinced that the Israelis were dominant, but just. The Arabs were quiescent, because their rights were being protected and the political and military situation was destined to remain stable until land was swapped for peace."

That's exactly right, and the premise then, you have to realize at that time there were only 1,500 total Israeli settlers in the entire occupied territories. This was before the massive Israeli confiscation of land and colonization of the choice sites. But the premise then, undisputed, was that Israel would soon withdraw from the occupied territories. So that impression I had was quite accurate at the time.

Can you think of one event or series of events that has caused your view to change so dramatically over those years?

Yes, the apparently permanent acquisition, confiscation and colonization of choice sites throughout the West Bank. These, the Israelis have taken away from the Palestinians. Apparently with ideas by some Israelis, to keep those areas permanently. That's the root of the problem that prevents peace coming to the Mideast.

Excerpt: Palestine Peace Not Apartheid

Chapter 17: Summary

Since the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty was signed in 1979, much blood has been shed unnecessarily and repeated efforts for a negotiated peace between Israel and her neighbors have failed. Despite its criticism from some Arab sources, this treaty stands as proof that diplomacy can bring lasting peace between ancient adversaries. Although disparities among them are often emphasized, the 1974 Israeli- Syrian withdrawal agreement, the 1978 Camp David Accords, the Reagan statement of 1982, the 1993 Oslo Agreement, the treaty between Israel and Jordan in 1994, the Arab peace proposal of 2002, the 2003 Geneva Initiative, and the International Quartet's Roadmap all contain key common elements that can be consolidated if pursued in good faith. There are two interrelated obstacles to permanent peace in the Middle East:

1. Some Israelis believe they have the right to confiscate and colonize Palestinian land and try to justify the sustained subjugation and persecution of increasingly hopeless and aggravated Palestinians; and

2. Some Palestinians react by honoring suicide bombers as martyrs to be rewarded in heaven and consider the killing of Israelis as victories.

In turn, Israel responds with retribution and oppression, and militant Palestinians refuse to recognize the legitimacy of Israel and vow to destroy the nation. The cycle of distrust and violence is sustained, and efforts for peace are frustrated. Casualties have been high as the occupying forces impose ever tighter controls. From September 2000 until March 2006, 3,982 Palestinians and 1,084 Israelis were killed in the second intifada, and these numbers include many children: 708 Palestinians and 123 Israelis. As indicated earlier, there was an ever-rising toll of dead and wounded from the latest outbreak of violence in Gaza and Lebanon.

The only rational response to this continuing tragedy is to revitalize the peace process through negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, but the United States has, in effect, abandoned this effort. It may be that one of the periodic escalations in violence will lead to strong influence being exerted from the International Quartet to implement its Roadmap for Peace. These are the key requirements:

a. The security of Israel must be guaranteed. The Arabs must acknowledge openly and specifically that Israel is a reality and has a right to exist in peace, behind secure and recognized borders, and with a firm Arab pledge to terminate any further acts of violence against the legally constituted nation of Israel.

b. The internal debate within Israel must be resolved in order to define Israel's permanent legal boundary. The unwavering official policy of the United States since Israel became a state has been that its borders must coincide with those prevailing from 1949 until 1967 (unless modified by mutually agreeable land swaps), specified in the unanimously adopted U.N. Resolution 242, which mandates Israel's withdrawal from occupied territories. This obligation was reconfirmed by Israel's leaders in agreements negotiated in 1978 at Camp David and in 1993 at Oslo, for which they received the Nobel Peace Prize, and both of these commitments were officially ratified by the Israeli government. Also, as a member of the International Quartet that includes Russia, the United Nations, and the European Union, America supports the Roadmap for Peace, which espouses exactly the same requirements. Palestinian leaders unequivocally accepted this proposal, but Israel has officially rejected its key provisions with unacceptable caveats and prerequisites.

Despite these recent developments, it is encouraging that Israel has made previous commitments to peace as confirmed by the Camp David Accords, the withdrawal of its forces from the Sinai, the more recent movement of settlers from Gaza, and its official endorsement of pertinent U.N. resolutions establishing its legal borders. After the Six-Day War in 1967, Israeli military forces occupied all of the territory indicated on Map 4, but joined the United States and other nations in supporting United Nations Resolution 242, which is still the binding law that condemns the acquisition of land by force and requires Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories.

c. The sovereignty of all Middle East nations and sanctity of international borders must be honored. There is little doubt that accommodation with Palestinians can bring full Arab recognition of Israel and its right to live in peace, with an Arab commitment to restrain further violence initiated by extremist Palestinians.

The overriding problem is that, for more than a quarter century, the actions of some Israeli leaders have been in direct conflict with the official policies of the United States, the international community, and their own negotiated agreements. Regardless of whether Palestinians had no formalized government, one headed by Yasir Arafat or Mahmoud Abbas, or one with Abbas as president and Hamas controlling the parliament and cabinet, Israel's continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land. In order to perpetuate the occupation, Israeli forces have deprived their unwilling subjects of basic human rights. No objective person could personally observe existing conditions in the West Bank and dispute these statements.

Two other interrelated factors have contributed to the perpetuation of violence and regional upheaval: the condoning of illegal Israeli actions from a submissive White House and U.S. Congress during recent years, and the deference with which other international leaders permit this unofficial U.S. policy in the Middle East to prevail. There are constant and vehement political and media debates in Israel concerning its policies in the West Bank, but because of powerful political, economic, and religious forces in the United States, Israeli government decisions are rarely questioned or condemned, voices from Jerusalem dominate in our media, and most American citizens are unaware of circumstances in the occupied territories. At the same time, political leaders and news media in Europe are highly critical of Israeli policies, affecting public attitudes. Americans were surprised and angered by an opinion poll, published by the International Herald Tribune in October 2003, of 7,500 citizens in fifteen European nations, indicating that Israel was considered to be the top threat to world peace, ahead of North Korea, Iran, or Afghanistan.

The United States has used its U.N. Security Council veto more than forty times to block resolutions critical of Israel. Some of these vetoes have brought international discredit on the United States, and there is little doubt that the lack of a persistent effort to resolve the Palestinian issue is a major source of anti-American sentiment and terrorist activity throughout the Middle East and the Islamic world.

A new factor in the region is that the Palestinian election of January 2006 gave Hamas members control of the parliament and a cabinet headed by the prime minister. Israel and the United States reacted by announcing a policy of isolating and destabilizing the new government. Elected officials are denied travel permits to participate in parliamentary affairs, Gaza is effectively isolated, and every effort is made to block humanitarian funds to Palestinians, to prevent their right to employment or commercial trade, and to deny them access to Israel and the outside world.

In order to achieve its goals, Israel has decided to avoid any peace negotiations and to escape even the mild restraints of the United States by taking unilateral action, called "convergence" or "realignment," to carve out for itself the choice portions of the West Bank, leaving Palestinians destitute within a small and fragmented remnant of their own land. The holding of almost 10,000 Arab prisoners and the destructive military response to the capture of three Israeli soldiers have aroused global concern about the hair-trigger possibility of a regional war being launched.

Despite these immediate challenges, we must not assume that the future is hopeless. Down through the years I have seen despair and frustration evolve into optimism and progress and, even now, we must not abandon efforts to achieve permanent peace for Israelis and freedom and justice for Palestinians. There are some positive factors on which we may rely.

As I said in a 1979 speech to the Israeli Knesset, "The people support a settlement. Political leaders are the obstacles to peace." Over the years, public opinion surveys have consistently shown that a majority of Israelis favor withdrawing from Palestinian territory in exchange for peace ("swapping land for peace"), and recent polls show that 80 percent of Palestinians still want a two-state peace agreement with Israel, with nearly 70 percent supporting the moderate Mahmoud Abbas as their president and spokesman.

There have been some other encouraging developments over the years. Along with the awareness among most Israelis that a solution to the Palestinian question is critical if there is ever to be a comprehensive settlement, there is a growing recognition in the Arab world that Israel is an unchanging reality. Most Palestinians and other Arabs maintain that the proposal made by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, a proposal approved at the Arab summit in 2002 (Appendix 6), is a public acknowledgment of Israel's right to exist within its legal borders and shows willingness to work out disputes that have so far not been addressed directly. The Delphic wording of this statement was deliberate, in Arabic as well as in Hebrew and English, but the Arabs defend it by saying it is there to be explored by the Israelis and others and that, in any case, it is a more positive and clear commitment to international law than anything now coming from Israel.

Furthermore, the remaining differences and their potential resolution are clearly defined. Both Israel and the Arab countries have endorsed the crucial and unavoidable U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338, under which peace agreements have already been evolved.

Here are two voices, one Palestinian and the other Israeli, with remarkably similar assessments of what needs to be done.

Jonathan Kuttab, Palestinian human rights lawyer: "Everybody knows what it will take to achieve a permanent and lasting peace that addresses the basic interests of both sides: It's a two-state solution. It's withdrawal to 1967 borders. It's dismantlement of the settlements. It's some kind of shared status for a united Jerusalem, the capital of both parties. The West Bank and Gaza would have to be demilitarized to remove any security threats to Israel. Some kind of solution would have to be reached for the refugee problem, some qualified right of return, with compensation. Everyone knows the solution; the question is: Is there political will to implement it?"

Dr. Naomi Chazan, professor at Hebrew University and former deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset: "I don't think any difference now remains between the majority of Israelis and Palestinians in understanding that there has to be some kind of accommodation between both people. There are two possibilities on how to do it. To acknowledge and then to implement the Palestine right to self-determination, and to make sure that the two-state solution is a just and fair solution, allowing for the creation of a viable state alongside Israel on the 1967 boundaries, and if there are any changes, they are by agreement on a swap basis. And on the Israeli side, there is the need to maintain a democratic state with a Jewish majority, which can only be achieved through the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel."

An important fact to remember is that President Mahmoud Abbas retains all presidential authority that was exercised by Yasir Arafat when he negotiated the Oslo Agreement, and the Hamas prime minister has stated that his government supports peace talks between Israel and Abbas. He added that Hamas would modify its rejection of Israel if there is a negotiated agreement that Palestinians can approve (as specified in the Camp David Accords). It is imperative that the general Arab community and all significant Palestinian groups make it clear that they will end the suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism when international laws and the ultimate goals of the Roadmap for Peace are accepted by Israel.

One promising development came in May 2006 when Marwan Barghouti, the most popular and influential leader of Fatah, joined forces in an Israeli prison with Abed al-Halak Natashe, a trusted spokesman for Hamas, in endorsing a twostate proposal that could unite the two Palestinian factions. Their influence is enormous. The prisoners' proposal called for a unity government with Hamas joining the PLO, the release of all political prisoners, acceptance of Israel as a neighbor within its legal borders, and an end to violent acts within Israel (but not in Palestinian territory). It endorsed the key U.N. resolutions regarding legal borders and the right of return.

With public opinion polls indicating a 77 percent rate of approval, President Abbas first proposed a referendum among Palestinians on the prisoners' proposal, and then both Hamas and Fatah accepted its provisions.

Although a clear majority of Israelis are persistently willing to accept terms that are tolerable to most of their Arab neighbors, it is clear that none of the options is attractive for all Israelis:

- A forcible annexation of Palestine and its legal absorption into Israel, which could give large numbers of non-Jewish citizens the right to vote and live as equals under the law. This would directly violate international standards and the Camp David Accords, which are the basis for peace with Egypt. At the same time, non-Jewish citizens would make up a powerful swing vote if other Israelis were divided and would ultimately constitute an outright majority in the new Greater Israel. Israel would be further isolated and condemned by the international community, with no remaining chance to end hostilities with any appreciable part of the Arab world.

- A system of apartheid, with two peoples occupying the same land but completely separated from each other, with Israelis totally dominant and suppressing violence by depriving Palestinians of their basic human rights. This is the policy now being followed, although many citizens of Israel deride the racist connotation of prescribing permanent second-class status for the Palestinians. As one prominent Israeli stated, "I am afraid that we are moving toward a government like that of South Africa, with a dual society of Jewish rulers and Arab subjects with few rights of citizenship. The West Bank is not worth it." An unacceptable modification of this choice, now being proposed, is the taking of substantial portions of the occupied territory, with the remaining Palestinians completely surrounded by walls, fences, and Israeli checkpoints, living as prisoners within the small portion of land left to them.

- Withdrawal to the 1967 border as specified in U.N. Resolution 242 and as promised in the Camp David Accords and the Oslo Agreement and prescribed in the Roadmap of the International Quartet. This is the most attractive option and the only one that can ultimately be acceptable as a basis for peace. Goodfaith negotiations can lead to mutually agreeable exchanges of land, perhaps permitting a significant number of Israeli settlers to remain in their present homes near Jerusalem. One version of this choice was spelled out in the Geneva Initiative.

The bottom line is this: Peace will come to Israel and the Middle East only when the Israeli government is willing to comply with international law, with the Roadmap for Peace, with official American policy, with the wishes of a majority of its own citizens—and honor its own previous commitments— by accepting its legal borders. All Arab neighbors must pledge to honor Israel's right to live in peace under these conditions. The United States is squandering international prestige and goodwill and intensifying global anti-American terrorism by unofficially condoning or abetting the Israeli confiscation and colonization of Palestinian territories. 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.

Copyright © 2006 by Jimmy Carter

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