ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Just the title of the new book by former President Jimmy Carter makes controversy. It's "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid."

As NPR's Jackie Northam reports, pro-Israeli groups do not like it.

JACKIE NORTHAM: The crowning achievement of President Carter's one term in office was arguably his rule in the historic and lasting peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.

In the years following the signing of the 1978 Camp David Accords, President Carter has maintained a deep interest in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Speaking with Terry Gross on "Fresh Air," Carter expressed frustration with the lack of movement on the peace process. He said he knew using the words Palestine and apartheid in the title would generate interest.

President JIMMY CARTER: And I realized when I chose this title that it would be provocative. I hope it provokes people to actually read the book and to find out the facts.

NORTHAM: In the book, Carter cites failures on all sides - the Palestinians, Israel, the U.S. - to bring about a peace deal. But the book is particularly critical of Israel, likening its policies in the Palestinian territories to the former policy of apartheid in South Africa.

William Quandt, with the University of Virginia, was a member of Carter's national security council and was actively involved in the Camp David accords. Quandt says the title and the content of the book is probably meant to shock.

Professor WILLIAM QUANDT (University of Virginia): But I think in Carter's mind, it probably is viewed as a fair warning, not so much a statement that Israel has become an apartheid-like ruler over the Palestinian territories, but that it's on its way toward becoming that. And there is a certain risk that that is where Israel is heading with the building of settlements and the roads and the separation barrier and things like that.

NORTHAM: Quandt says he's not surprised that Carter would write what's seen as a provocative book. He says during his term in the White House, the former president would often ignore his political advisers and just do what he thought was right.

Prof. QUANDT: He has a tendency -- there's a moral streak, and some would say moralistic streak -- where if he thinks he's doing the right thing, he's just going to do it no matter what.

NORTHAM: The book has generated enormous criticism. There are complaints largely by pro-Israeli groups that Carter's facts are skewed, misguided or just plain wrong, and that the book is harshly one-sided against Israel. A fellow from Carter's own foundation, Kenneth Stein, has resigned in protest.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said his organization has received over 20,000 letters of complaints so far against President Carter.

Rabbi MARVIN HIER (Simon Wiesenthal Center): Some of them, they say that he's gone over to become an official spokesman of the Palestine cause. There's no objectivity in his book. People say that this is not the same Jimmy Carter who brokered the historic accord between Egypt and Israel. It is unworthy of a former president. He should be ashamed of himself, frankly.

NORTHAM: David Makovsky, with the Washington Institution for Near East Policy, says he admires President Carter for his part in the Camp David accords. But Makovsky says Carter's role as a former president, and as the winner of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize, carries certain obligations.

Mr. DAVID MAKOVSKY (Washington Institution for Near East Policy): For me, it's regrettable. I feel that Arabs look up to President Carter, and he could tell them in very a straightforward way what they need to do. He could be critical of Israel and doing it at the same time. But I feel the overall tone of the book places virtually the entire onus of this conflict on Israel.

NORTHAM: Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter's national security adviser during the late 1970s, says the former president essentially sees the Palestinians as being repressed. But, Brzezinski says, it's wrong to think Carter uses this book as a way to bash Israelis.

Mr. ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI (Former National Security Adviser): I think the point of the book is to simply remind the American people of this sort of underlying social tragedy that exists, and which has locked these two peoples in a scorpion-like embrace. And I think it's a call, in a sense, to the conscience of the outside world to do something about the situation.

NORTHAM: But as one analyst said, it will take more than just a controversial book by a former president to resolve the deep-rooted conflict between Arabs and Israelis.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

CHADWICK: And you can hear Jimmy Carter's full interview on "Fresh Air" and read an excerpt from his book at our Web site, npr.org.

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