than the Carter book. Have you remarked that much of the best writing,
the best commentary, on this issue is written by people who are Jews,
proud of that, and not apologetic for presenting their views? This
doesn't surprise me at all, because they of course have a much better
understanding of the whole issue, the whole problem, than outsiders like
many of the rest of us.
This article can be found on the web at
by HENRY SIEGMAN
[from the January 22, 2007 issue]
Former President Jimmy Carter's new book, /Palestine Peace Not
Apartheid/, provoked an uproar even before its publication. The reason
for the controversy was the book's title more than its content, for it
seemed to suggest that the avatar of democracy in the Middle East may be
on its way to creating a political order that resembles South Africa's
apartheid model of discrimination and repression, albeit on
ethnic-religious rather than racial grounds.
Since the appearance of the book coincided with the recent Congressional
elections, leaders of the Democratic Party went into near panic and fell
over one another disassociating themselves from Carter's book and his
criticisms of certain Israeli policies. Indeed, the panic was so intense
that so independent-minded a man as Howard Dean, chair of the party, who
in the past has had the courage to challenge the conventional wisdom of
the party's establishment on a whole range of issues, joined the herd as
None of this, of course, is in the least surprising. In the face of
overwhelming international criticism of President Bush for his failure
to engage in the Middle East peace process and for his unbalanced
support of Israel, the Democratic Party's Congressional leadership has
managed to criticize Bush for being too soft on the Palestinians and not
sufficiently supportive of Israel. So the criticism of President Carter
is noteworthy only for what it reveals about the ignorance of the
American political establishment, both Democrat and Republican, on the
subject of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
I would challenge the incoming Democratic chair of the House
International Relations Committee, Tom Lantos (not to mention the
outgoing chair, Henry Hyde), to identify the author of the following
comment, made at the time when Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir was about
to bring Rehavam Ze'evi, head of Israel's Moledet Party, into his
Cabinet. Ze'evi and his party were advocates of "transfer," a euphemism
for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the West Bank and in other
parts of "Greater Israel":
The transfer party's joining the government is a profound political,
moral and social stain, a dangerous infection penetrating [Israel's]
government. Anyone who includes the transfer [party] among the Zionist
parties of the coalition is in effect confirming the UN Resolution that
says Zionism is racism.
Had an American made such a statement, he would unquestionably have been
accused of hostility to the State of Israel, if not anti-Semitism. If
the person had been Jewish, he would have been branded a self-hating Jew.
In fact, the author of this statement was Benny Begin, the right-wing
son of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, a Likud "prince" who
relentlessly attacked the Labor Party for recognizing the PLO, which he
insisted, even after Oslo, was nothing more than a terrorist
organization. And the man who was described at the time in the
/Jerusalem Post/ as "the most vociferous among the cabinet ministers
opposing the appointment, saying it was inconceivable that a man with
Ze'evi's ideology should serve as a minister," was none other than Ehud
Olmert, another Likud prince.
When Olmert, as deputy prime minister in Ariel Sharon's government,
proposed that Israel withdraw unilaterally from Gaza and parts of the
West Bank, his justification was that given Palestinian demographics, a
continuation of the occupation would sooner or later turn Israeli Jews
into a minority. He warned that the Jewish State would then find itself
under attack from American Jewish organizations that boycotted South
Africa's apartheid regime.
Several months ago, the same Olmert who worried publicly about the
stigma of apartheid appointed Avigdor Lieberman, a man of racist and
antidemocratic convictions, as his deputy prime minister. Lieberman, who
heads a right-wing party of mostly Russian immigrants, Yisrael Beiteinu,
holds political views that would have made Rehavam Ze'evi sound like a
charter member of the ACLU. Neither Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of
France's anti-immigrant National Front, nor Austria's neofascist Jörg
Haider (whose role in forming an Austrian government provoked
international outrage that led to a diplomatic boycott), has called for
measures as outrageous as Lieberman. Lieberman advocates not only the
ethnic cleansing of all Palestinians from the occupied territories but
getting rid of Arabs who are Israeli citizens. He has urged that Arab
members of Israel's Knesset be executed for having contacts with Hamas
or for failing to celebrate Israel's Independence Day.
Lieberman was also appointed by Olmert as the minister in charge of
responding to "strategic threats" to Israel. If Israel does indeed face
an existential threat from Iran--and listening to Iran's Ahmadinejad's
rantings at an obscene event he orchestrated in Tehran for Holocaust
deniers, it is difficult not to take the threat seriously--it is hard to
imagine a more effective way of trivializing that threat than with the
appointment of Lieberman. Indeed, the decision is so reckless as to
suggest it is Olmert and his government--including his Labor Party
partners, who overwhelmingly approved Lieberman's appointment--who pose
the existential threat to their country.
The appointment also raises the question of how a government whose
deputy prime minister is a man who does not recognize the right of
Palestinians to even one square inch of territory in Palestine can
impose draconian sanctions on a Hamas government that will not recognize
Israel's legitimacy. Talk about double standards!
Not the least of the ironies of the controversy generated by Carter's
book, or by its title, is that on any day of the week, there appear in
virtually all major Israeli newspapers and in its other media far more
extreme criticisms of the policies of various Israeli governments than
one finds anywhere in the United States. Most of Israel's adversarial
editorializing would not be accepted in the op-ed pages of America's
It is also worth noting how uninformed Democratic and Republican mavens
are even about the voting patterns of American Jews. The panic aroused
by Carter's book title was based on the belief of these mavens that
American Jews share the hard-line right-wing views of organizations like
the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and
AIPAC, organizations that would go out of business if Israelis elected a
government committed to a political solution rather than a military one.
Indeed, when former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin came into office in
1992 and concluded that Israel's security would be far better served by
a peace agreement that recognizes Palestinian rights than by beating the
Palestinians into submission, both the Conference of Presidents and
AIPAC went into institutional eclipse, from which they did not emerge
until Benjamin Netanyahu came to power in 1996.
The uncritical pro-Israel advocacy of these organizations has never been
an accurate barometer of the political thinking or behavior of American
Jews. Surely there is something Republican and Democratic leaders can
learn from the fact that after six years of the presidency of the man
believed by Israelis and by the pro-Israel lobby in the United States to
be "the best American president Israel ever had," 87 percent of American
Jews voted for the Democratic Party, whose chair is seen by the
pro-Israel lobby as untrustworthy at best.
To be sure, the overwhelming majority of American Jews care deeply about
Israel's security and well-being. But that concern does not translate
for most of them into mindless support for the policies of Israeli
governments that seem to undermine Israel's security. Most American Jews
understand how recklessly both Democratic and Republican politicians
manipulate the Israel-Palestine issue to their own advantage, just as
most Israelis understand the same about many of their own politicians.
Carter's book recapitulates the crucial role he played as convener of
the Camp David summit meeting in 1978, which resulted in the landmark
peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. His description of the two
fascinating protagonists, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, makes for
compelling reading no matter how familiar the story's general outline.
When President Sadat met Carter at the White House not long after Carter
assumed the presidency in 1977, Carter was surprised by how "well
developed" Sadat's determination to work with him on peace negotiations
with Israel already was. Even more surprising was a letter Carter
received from Sadat following this meeting, in which he urged that the
President not do anything that would interfere with Sadat's
determination to negotiate directly with the Israelis--in dramatic
contrast to Sadat's fellow Arab leaders, for whom any contact with
Israel, however indirect, was anathema.
Equally surprising was Carter's impression of Begin when the two first
met in Washington. He found Begin to be a man of far less rigid views
than widely believed to be the case, and open to the ideas Carter had
discussed with Sadat.
The optimism sparked by these initial encounters, which were
dramatically reinforced by Sadat's precedent-shattering visit to
Jerusalem--a display of extraordinary political courage for which Sadat
was soon to pay with his life--was seriously undermined by his deep
disillusionment with Begin's return visit to Egypt, at which time Begin
insisted that Israeli settlements remain in the Sinai. Sadat saw his
conversations with Begin as a fatal setback to his peace initiative and
planned to publicly condemn Begin as a betrayer of the peace process in
a speech he had scheduled to deliver in the United States. He was
persuaded to drop that idea only after intense efforts by Carter. The
Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty was intended to bring about not only an
end to the conflict between Israel and Egypt but a process that would
grant autonomy--or "full autonomy," a term Begin oddly insisted on--to
Palestinians, something the treaty did not deliver.
Under the terms of the Camp David agreement, Israel and the Egyptians
established a joint committee to implement the treaty's provisions that
dealt with Palestinian national rights and the creation of a
self-governing Palestinian authority. Both Moshe Dayan and Ezer Weizman
represented Israel on this committee, and both resigned when they
realized that Begin was not serious about implementing those provisions.
Begin replaced them with a more trustworthy member of his Cabinet, Dr.
Joseph Burg, a venerable leader of the Mizrahi, the religious Zionist
organization (and father of Abraham Burg, a former head of the Jewish
Agency and Speaker of the Knesset).
The older Burg was a close friend of my family, and I often visited him
when I was in Israel. I once saw him while he served on this joint
Egyptian-Israeli committee and asked him what progress was being made.
Burg, who was a marvelous raconteur, answered with a story. There is an
old Jewish tale about a prince who asked a poor and simple Jew in the
Pale of Settlement to teach his dog to speak and threatened to expel the
Jews who lived within his princely domain if this Jew failed to do so
within a year. When the Jew came home with the prince's dog and
explained to his startled wife what had happened, she became hysterical.
Her husband calmed her by saying that he had an entire year before the
prince returned, and that by then "either the prince will die or the dog
I told Burg I knew the story. "Then let me tell you the sequel," Burg
said, which he had obviously made up himself. The prince returned a year
later and summoned the Jew, who showed up without the dog. The prince
angrily demanded that the Jew produce the dog immediately, but the Jew
pleaded with the prince to allow him to explain the situation. He
assured the prince that the dog had indeed learned to speak, but that
once he did, the dog began telling embarrassing stories. "What kind of
stories?" asked the alarmed prince. "Stories about where you regularly
took him at night when you told your wife you were taking the dog for a
long walk." The prince went into a panic and ordered the Jew to produce
the dog immediately so that he could shoot him. "Don't worry," said the
Jew. "I already did it for you, dear prince."
That, said Burg, is what has happened with the Israeli-Egyptian talks on
Palestinian autonomy. We shot the dog.
Carter places the blame for Israel's failure to implement the provisions
of the Camp David agreement for "full Palestinian autonomy" squarely on
Begin because of his violation of a promise to freeze further settlement
activity. Carter blames himself for not having obtained Begin's promise
in writing, and sees that as "the most serious omission of the Camp
David talks." In Carter's view, Begin saw the peace treaty with Egypt as
providing him "renewed freedom to pursue the goals of a fervent and
dedicated minority of [Israel's] citizens to confiscate, settle and
fortify the occupied territories."
The destructive impact of Israel's continued confiscation of Palestinian
land for its ever-expanding settlements on all subsequent efforts to end
this conflict, and of the draconian regime imposed by Israel's army on
the occupied territories--which today include well over 500 Israeli
military checkpoints and hundreds of other physical obstacles that have
utterly shattered Palestinian life--is the thread that runs through the
various chapters in Carter's book, in which he reviews the Oslo
agreement, the Camp David summit in 2000 and Clinton's peace proposals,
the road map, the Geneva Accord of 2003 and Sharon's unilateral
disengagement from Gaza, as well as the legislative elections won by
Hamas, the war in Lebanon and the deteriorating situation in Gaza.
The recent cease-fire announced by Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert, and
the conciliatory tone--if not the unremarkable content--of Olmert's
latest speech in Sde Boker, led some to believe that a breakthrough in
the long-stalled peace process was imminent. But these hopes were
quickly dashed by Olmert's rejection of the Iraq Study Group's
recommendation that President Bush re-engage vigorously in the
Israel-Palestine peace process, not only to put an end to one of the
world's longest-lasting conflicts but also because an
Israeli-Palestinian agreement could significantly improve America's
standing in the region and the ability of friendly Arab states to assist
it in extricating itself from the Iraqi quagmire.
That a serious engagement in peacemaking by an American President who
has been embarrassingly one-sided in his support of Israel's government
would so frighten Olmert and his Cabinet tells us all we need to know
about the sincerity of his search for a Palestinian peace partner. The
avoidance of a bilateral process in order to set Israel's boundaries
unilaterally has been the strategic objective of both Sharon's Likud
government and now of Olmert's Kadima-Labor coalition government. It is
a strategic goal that apparently remains unchanged despite Olmert's
repeated promises to meet with Mahmoud Abbas, a meeting for which he had
not been able to clear his calendar for almost a year. That meeting has
finally taken place. Not surprisingly, Olmert used it to announce some
limited humanitarian gestures and financial assistance to help
strengthen Abbas's security forces in their confrontation with Hamas's
forces. Olmert's own foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, noted dryly that
these gestures (none of which have been implemented as of this writing)
did nothing to bring a peace process any closer.
Indeed, whatever little good Olmert's gestures might have done was
undone within forty-eight hours of the meeting, when Israel's government
announced it had authorized the establishment of a new settlement in the
Jordan Valley, well outside the so-called security fence it is building.
And if that were not enough to discredit Abbas and vindicate Hamas, it
was also revealed that various Israeli governmental ministries secretly
collaborated in the construction of permanent new housing in illegal
outposts that Olmert (and previously Sharon) had promised the United
States would be dismantled.
Carter's harsh condemnation of Israeli policies in the occupied
territories is not the consequence of ideology or of an anti-Israel
bias. He expresses deep admiration for the Israeli people and their
remarkable achievements and empathy for the suffering they have endured
as a result of Palestinian suicide bombings, and warns Palestinians that
terrorism is discrediting their national cause. Carter repeatedly cites
three conditions that he believes are necessary for a resumption of the
peace process and a resolution of the conflict, of which the first is
guarantees for Israel's security, the second a complete end to
Palestinian violence and terrorism, and the third recognition by Israel
of the Palestinian right to statehood within pre-1967 borders.
But Carter is equally empathetic to the suffering of the Palestinian
people under occupation, which he has seen firsthand during his many
visits there. For most Westerners, including most Israelis, the
Palestinian ordeal is invisible and might as well be taking place on the
far side of the moon for all they know or seem to care about it.
Accusations by Alan Dershowitz and others that Carter is indifferent to
Israel's security only prove that no good deed goes unpunished.
Arguably, the single most important contribution to Israel's security by
far was the removal of Egypt--possessing the most powerful of the
military forces in the Arab world--from the Arab axis that was intent on
the destruction of the State of Israel in its early years. Egypt's peace
agreement with Israel permanently removed the possibility of such a
combined Arab assault against the Jewish State, something for which the
late Syrian president Hafez Assad could not get himself to forgive
Sadat, even after he was assassinated.
Assad's bitterness over Sadat's "betrayal" was a major theme of a
four-hour meeting I had with him in 1994. He cited it as the reason he
would not meet with Rabin or engage in other confidence-building
measures that would help dispose Israelis to support the return of the
Golan Heights, something I had urged him to do. He insisted that any
concessions before an agreement is fully signed would be seen by the
Syrian people as a repeat of Sadat's betrayal.
Carter's book provides an important reminder that the Camp David
agreement not only created a durable peace between Egypt and Israel but
served as a model for all of the major Israeli-Palestinian peace
initiatives that were to follow. Oslo's concepts of a self-governing
Palestinian Authority, of a five-year process that concludes with
agreements on permanent-status issues, of negotiations on such issues
that begin no later than in the third year of the agreement and of an
armed Palestinian police force to maintain order are all spelled out in
the Camp David agreement. And the outline of what an Israeli-Palestinian
settlement would have to look like if an agreement is to be reached is
also adumbrated in the Camp David accords of 1978, which included
Begin's acceptance of Egypt's insistence on the return of all Egyptian
territory held by Israel. The magnitude of that accomplishment places
the pettiness of the critics of President Carter and his latest book in