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Commentary on President Carter's new book, "Palestine: Peace

*November 16, 2006*

 */Will Other Democrats Listen to Carter on Palestine?/*

 *Jimmy Carter and the "A" Word*


President Jimmy Carter's latest book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid
(Simon and Schuster 2006), released yesterday, has been primed for
controversy. Weeks before it hit the bookshelves, election-hungry
Democrats were disavowing it because it used the word "apartheid" to
describe the discrimination against Palestinians living in the Occupied
West Bank and Gaza Strip. House Representative and soon-to-be Majority
Leader Nancy Pelosi wrote: "It is wrong to suggest that the Jewish
people would support a government in Israel or anywhere else that
institutionalizes ethnically based oppression, and Democrats reject that
allegation vigorously." But does the President's book really warrant the
swift condemnation leveled against it by his own party?

To put the name "apartheid" to Israeli policies is nothing new. Hendrik
Verwoerd, South African Prime Minister and architect of apartheid did so
in 1961. Israeli academic Uri Davis made the claim in 1987, as did Nobel
laureate Desmond Tutu in 1989 and again in 2002. What makes Jimmy Carter
unique is that he is the first U.S. President to make that comparison.
Unlike the others, Carter's description is carefully qualified. He
writes: "The driving purpose of the separation of the two peoples is
unlike that in South Africa ­ not racism but the acquisition of land"
(189-190). What's more, Carter's assessment of Israeli policies towards
the Palestinians contradicts the observations he catalogues in his own
text. He writes that "There has been a determined and remarkably
effective effort to isolate settlers from Palestinians, so that a Jewish
family can commute from Jerusalem to their highly subsidized home deep
in the West Bank on roads from which others are excluded, without ever
coming in contact with any facet of Arab life" (190).

In his failed effort not to offend, Carter overlooks several critical
aspects of Israeli policy. Since its inception, Israel has striven to
establish a strong Jewish majority within the state, treating the ratio
of Jews to non-Jews as a national security issue. Numerous Israeli
policies ­ from the expulsion of three quarters of a million
Palestinians in Israel's founding years to the route of Israel's current
"security barrier" ­ are designed to preserve Jewish demographic
predominance. Palestinians citizens of the state of Israel face a
catalogue of over 20 discriminatory laws, based solely on their identity
as non-Jewish citizens, including the Law of Return, which grants
automatic citizenship rights to Jews from anywhere in the world upon
request, but denies that same right to native Palestinians.

Carter's book eloquently describes the situation in the West Bank and
Gaza Strip, and it is here that Israel exhibits its strongest parallels
to apartheid. He writes about the extensive road system that
crisscrosses the West Bank but which Palestinians are forbidden to use.
Palestinians in the West Bank often require permission simply to travel
from one village to the next, and pass through numerous Israeli military
checkpoints, reminiscent of South Africa's infamous "pass system" which
controlled the movement of blacks. Carter also levels a strong criticism
against "the wall," which secures Israel's control of confiscated
Palestinian lands and separates Palestinian communities from each other.
He quotes Father Claudio Ghiraldi, the priest of the Santa Marta
Monastery in Bethany: "Countering Israeli arguments that the wall is to
keep Palestinian suicide bombers from Israel, Father Claudio adds...'The
Wall is not separating Palestinians from Jews; rather Palestinians from
Palestinians'" (194).

Faced with such overwhelming evidence, it is difficult to imagine how
the label of apartheid has not been used more frequently to describe
Israeli policies, and without any qualifications. But Jimmy Carter,
though he remains the elder statesman of U.S. diplomacy in the Middle
East, writes within the narrow confines of the American policy tradition
in the region, a tradition that has, for decades, favored virtually
unconditional financial, military, diplomatic and emotional support for

Carter falls short of a full critique of Israel's treatment of non-Jews
under its rule, but his book challenges Americans to see the conflict
with eyes wide open. He places the blame on "Israel's continued control
and colonization of Palestinian land" as "the primary obstacles to a
comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land" and he places equal
blame on the United States for "the condoning of illegal Israeli actions
from a submissive White House and U.S. Congress in recent years."

Americans can only hope that the newly elected Congress, led by Ms.
Pelosi and her fellow Democrats, will read beyond that title page and
that one day, they too, will see the writing on the wall.

*Lena Khalaf Tuffaha* wrote this commentary for the Institute for Middle
East Understanding <>.
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