Speaking frankly about Israel and Palestine
Jimmy Carter says his recent book is drawing knee-jerk accusations of
By Jimmy Carter the 39th president of the United States.
His newest book is "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," published last
month. He is scheduled to sign books Monday at Vroman's in Pasadena.
December 8, 2006
I signed a contract with Simon & Schuster two years ago to write a book
about the Middle East, based on my personal observations as the Carter
Center monitored three elections in Palestine and on my consultations
with Israeli political leaders and peace activists.
We covered every Palestinian community in 1996, 2005 and 2006, when
Yasser Arafat and later Mahmoud Abbas were elected president and members
of parliament were chosen. The elections were almost flawless, and
turnout was very high — except in East Jerusalem, where, under severe
Israeli restraints, only about 2% of registered voters managed to cast
The many controversial issues concerning Palestine and the path to peace
for Israel are intensely debated among Israelis and throughout other
nations — but not in the United States. For the last 30 years, I have
witnessed and experienced the severe restraints on any free and balanced
discussion of the facts. This reluctance to criticize any policies of
the Israeli government is because of the extraordinary lobbying efforts
of the American-Israel Political Action Committee and the absence of any
significant contrary voices.
It would be almost politically suicidal for members of Congress to
espouse a balanced position between Israel and Palestine, to suggest
that Israel comply with international law or to speak in defense of
justice or human rights for Palestinians. Very few would ever deign to
visit the Palestinian cities of Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron, Gaza City or
even Bethlehem and talk to the beleaguered residents. What is even more
difficult to comprehend is why the editorial pages of the major
newspapers and magazines in the United States exercise similar
self-restraint, quite contrary to private assessments expressed quite
forcefully by their correspondents in the Holy Land.
With some degree of reluctance and some uncertainty about the reception
my book would receive, I used maps, text and documents to describe the
situation accurately and to analyze the only possible path to peace:
Israelis and Palestinians living side by side within their own
internationally recognized boundaries. These options are consistent with
key U.N. resolutions supported by the U.S. and Israel, official American
policy since 1967, agreements consummated by Israeli leaders and their
governments in 1978 and 1993 (for which they earned Nobel Peace Prizes),
the Arab League's offer to recognize Israel in 2002 and the
International Quartet's "Roadmap for Peace," which has been accepted by
the PLO and largely rejected by Israel.
The book is devoted to circumstances and events in Palestine and /not/
in Israel, where democracy prevails and citizens live together and are
legally guaranteed equal status.
Although I have spent only a week or so on a book tour so far, it is
already possible to judge public and media reaction. Sales are brisk,
and I have had interesting interviews on TV, including "Larry King
Live," "Hardball," "Meet the Press," "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," the
"Charlie Rose" show, C-SPAN and others. But I have seen few news stories
in major newspapers about what I have written.
Book reviews in the mainstream media have been written mostly by
representatives of Jewish organizations who would be unlikely to visit
the occupied territories, and their primary criticism is that the book
is anti-Israel. Two members of Congress have been publicly critical.
Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for instance, issued a statement
(before the book was published) saying that "he does not speak for the
Democratic Party on Israel." Some reviews posted on Amazon.com call me
"anti-Semitic," and others accuse the book of "lies" and "distortions."
A former Carter Center fellow has taken issue with it, and Alan
Dershowitz called the book's title "indecent."
Out in the real world, however, the response has been overwhelmingly
positive. I've signed books in five stores, with more than 1,000 buyers
at each site. I've had one negative remark — that I should be tried for
treason — and one caller on C-SPAN said that I was an anti-Semite. My
most troubling experience has been the rejection of my offers to speak,
for free, about the book on university campuses with high Jewish
enrollment and to answer questions from students and professors. I have
been most encouraged by prominent Jewish citizens and members of
Congress who have thanked me privately for presenting the facts and some
The book describes the abominable oppression and persecution in the
occupied Palestinian territories, with a rigid system of required passes
and strict segregation between Palestine's citizens and Jewish settlers
in the West Bank. An enormous imprisonment wall is now under
construction, snaking through what is left of Palestine to encompass
more and more land for Israeli settlers. In many ways, this is more
oppressive than what blacks lived under in South Africa during
apartheid. I have made it clear that the motivation is not racism but
the desire of a minority of Israelis to confiscate and colonize choice
sites in Palestine, and then to forcefully suppress any objections from
the displaced citizens. Obviously, I condemn any acts of terrorism or
violence against innocent civilians, and I present information about the
terrible casualties on both sides.
The ultimate purpose of my book is to present facts about the Middle
East that are largely unknown in America, to precipitate discussion and
to help restart peace talks (now absent for six years) that can lead to
permanent peace for Israel and its neighbors. Another hope is that Jews
and other Americans who share this same goal might be motivated to
express their views, even publicly, and perhaps in concert. I would be
glad to help with that effort.
/Ben Franklin, responding to a question in 1787 about what type of
government the Constitutional Convention had agreed upon, reportedly
replied, "A republic, if you can keep it." /