The World According to Jimmy Carter

A review of Jimmy Carter, Palestine:Peace Not Apartheid (Simon & Schuster, November 2006)

It is not difficult to understand why Democrats wanted the publication of Jimmy Carter's slim new book (216 pages of text, large print and no footnotes), with its tendentious title and its superficial analysis, delayed until today, a week after the election.  The anti—Israel bias is so clear, the credulous description of Arab positions so cringe—producing, the key 'facts' on which Carter relies so easily refuted by public documents, that the book is an embarrassment to Carter, the Democrats, the presidency and Americans.

It is hard to decide which is more discomforting —— what Carter put in or what he left out.  Let's start with his own words, and let him speak for himself, and then note what no knowledgeable observer of the Middle East could have ingenuously omitted.

Carter says he paid his first visit to Israel in June 1973 (when he was privately 'planning a future role as president'), and he devotes an entire chapter to it.  The trip 'formed most of my lasting impressions of Israel' —— and they do not seem to have been good ones. 

On his trip, he traveled 'along the paths of Jesus' around the Sea of Galilee and found that:

'It was especially interesting to visit with some of the few surviving Samaritans, who complained to us that their holy sites and culture were not being respected by Israeli authorities — the same complaint heard by Jesus and his disciples almost two thousand years earlier.'

He describes his visit to several kibbutzim and finds that Israel fails his religious test again (at least on one kibbutz):

'The next morning was the Sabbath, and at the appointed time we entered the synagogue, said a silent prayer, and then stood quietly just inside the door.  Only two other worshippers appeared.  When I asked if this was typical, [the guide] gave a wry smile and shrugged his shoulders as if it was not important either way.'

Later on the trip, when asked to participate in a graduation ceremony at an IDF training camp, Carter helps by presenting a Hebrew bible to each graduate,

'which was one of the few indications of a religious commitment that I observed during our visit.'

Carter states that he has

'to admit that, at the time, I equated the ejection of Palestinians from their previous homes within the State of Israel to the forcing of Lower Creek Indians from the Georgia land where our family farm was now located.'

(So far as the book indicates, he apparently has no plans to give any portion of his farm back).

At the end of his visit, he meets with Prime Minister Golda Meir and when asked to share his observations, responds to her as follows.

'I said that I had long taught lessons from the Hebrew Scriptures and that a common historical pattern was that Israel was punished whenever the leaders turned away from devout worship of God.  I asked if she was concerned about the secular nature of her Labor government.'

Carter writes that she 'seemed surprised at my temerity.'  He comments that she could not know that four years later Menachem Begin would become prime minister, and

'[m]uch of Begin's political strength would come from his deep religious convictions.'

Not that the 'deep religious convictions' did Begin very much good later on with Carter.  Carter's well—known antipathy for the Israeli prime minister continued even after Carter left office.  Here is Carter's description of his meeting —— as a private citizen in 1983 —— in Prime Minister Begin's office in Jerusalem, discussing an alleged 'commitment' that is in fact not contained in the 1978 Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt (attached as appendices to Carter's book):

'Although his nation and mine shared many beliefs and political goals, he and I had frequently been at odds across the negotiating table.  It was no secret that Begin and I had strong public disagreements . . . Unfortunately, these disputes had resulted in some personal differences as well.

'Now we were together again, and as had always been my custom, I expressed myself with frankness on some of the more controversial issues. . . . Then, as he sat without looking at me, I explained again why we believed he had not honored a commitment made during the peace negotiations to withdraw Israeli forces and to refrain from building new Israeli settlements in the West Bank. . . .

'I paused, expecting the prime minister to give his usual strong explanation of Israeli policy.  He responded with just a few words in a surprisingly perfunctory manner and made it plain that our conversation should be concluded.'

Perhaps that's what happens when you show up as a private citizen and insult a head of state by 'explaining' how he allegedly lied.

In contrast, Arab tyrants never receive the 'temerity' and 'frankness' that Carter visited upon Golda Meir and Menachem Begin.  Instead, they get jokes, and their word is taken down as truth and re—transmitted by the credulous Carter.  Here is how Carter describes his 1977 meeting with Syrian President Hafez al—Assad:

'I invited the Syrian leader to come to see me in Washington, but he replied that he had no desire ever to visit the United States.  Despite this firm but polite rebuff, I learned what I could about him and his nation before meeting him...

'We first met in Switzerland in June 1977.... He seemed somewhat haughty at first but interested in my efforts to arrange peace negotiations...  [I]t is useful to summarize the fervent opinions of Assad, which are rarely heard in the Western world.  Rosalynn and I, plus official interpreters, kept careful notes of our conversations....

'He emphasized that, as a matter of principle, no Arab leader could ever agree to any extension of Israel's legal borders no matter how great his desire for peace....

''It is strange to insist on secure borders on other people's territory.  Why should their secure border be in the backyard of Damascus but quite distant from Tel Aviv?'

'He added, almost as an afterthought, 'We are all the time talking about religion.  If Jerusalem is taken from us, we Muslims would be soulless.  It is inconceivable that we should be clamoring for a return to the 1967 borders and exclude only Jerusalem.'

''Would it make it any easier if we make other exclusions as well?' I asked.

'He laughed along with our advisers around the conference table....'

Here is Carter's searing cross—examination of Assad relating to Lebanon:

'I asked him why Syria had never recognized Lebanon as a separate and independent nation and seemed to consider it part of Syria.  Assad disavowed any designs on his western neighbor, insisting that he and his people recognized Lebanon's independence without equivocation.' 

Carter duplicated that performance with a 'most informative visit' to Saudi Arabia in 1983: 

'King Khalid told me on my first visit to Saudi Arabia that each day he opened his doors to many dozens of men who wished to see him, and each week women of the families were permitted to bring their problems and requests directly to him.  He traveled widely through the desert kingdom with a fleet of tractor—trailers carrying a complete mobile hospital and personally welcomed those who needed medical treatment.  When I expressed concern about the time—consuming extent of these administrative chores, he replied that the kingdom could not survive if its leaders abandoned this commitment of personal service to their people.'

Carter's credulousness in his later meeting with Arafat borders on self—parody:

'When I met with Yasir Arafat in 1990, he stated, 'The PLO has never advocated the annihilation of Israel.  The Zionists started the 'drive the Jews into the sea' slogan and attributed it to the PLO.  In 1969, we said we wanted to establish a democratic state where Jews, Christians, and Muslims can all live together.  The Zionists said they do not choose to live with any people other than Jews'

'When I asked Arafat about the purposes of the PLO, he seemed somewhat taken aback that I needed to ask such a question.  He gave me a pamphlet that stated, 'The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is the national liberation movement of the Palestinian people....'

Carter concludes his discussion of Arafat's PLO by asserting that it is a 'loosely associated umbrella organization' that comprises many groups 'eager to use diverse means to reach their goals.'  He writes that the many U.N. resolutions supporting Palestinians are 'proof' of the rightness of their cause.  In place of temerity and frankness, Carter gives us this:

'Rosalynn and I met with Yasir Arafat in Gaza City, where he was staying with his wife, Suha, and their little daughter.  The baby dressed in a beautiful pink suit, came readily to sit on my lap, where I practiced the same wiles that had been successful with our children and grandchildren.  A lot of photographs were taken, and then the photographers asked that Arafat hold his daughter for a while.  When he took her, the child screamed loudly and reached out her hands to me....'

Joking with Assad, writing down his assurances regarding Lebanon (since Assad told him they were 'without equivocation'), learning of the benign PLO 'goals' from a PLO pamphlet provided by Arafat, expressing concern about the 'time consuming' administrative chores of the selfless King Khalid, bouncing Arafat's grandchild on his lap —— the book is hardly worth reading at all until suddenly, in the last 70 pages, it turns more serious, and demonstrably false.

Carter has nothing —— literally nothing of subtance —— to say about the 2000 Camp David negotiations.  He mentions them only in the middle of a single sentence (describing them as a 'fourteen day session in July 2000') before he turns to the Clinton Parameters issued to Israel and the Palestinians in December 2000, in the fourth month of the new war that Arafat brought after leaving Camp David without so much as a counter—offer.

Carter writes that '[t]here was no clear response from Prime Minister Barak' to the Clinton Parameters and that they envisioned 'at least two noncontiguous areas and multiple fragments.'  Anyone who has read Dennis Ross's exhaustive, day—by—day account of Camp David and the Clinton Parameters in The Missing Peace:  The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace knows this is a misstatement of both the Clinton proposal and the Israeli response to them.  Israel accepted Clinton proposals that would have resulted in a state on all of Gaza and 97% of the West Bank.

Carter reproduces a map (without identifying its source) that he titles 'Palestinian Interpretation of Clinton's Proposal 2000' that purports to show large noncontiguous areas —— but Carter ignores the maps that Dennis Ross published of what was offered first at Camp David and then under the Clinton Parameters —— both of which show a contiguous Palestinian state with no 'fragments.'

Carter appears to have made the same factual mistake that Walt & Mearsheimer did (or perhaps simply borrowed their analysis without attribution), relying on tendentious secondary sources and ignoring multiple published primary ones.  At least Walt & Mearsheimer provided a footnote that could be checked and refuted.  Carter simply speaks ex cathedra.

Carter next asserts that '[a] new round of talks was held at Taba in January 2001, during the last few days of the Clinton presidency.'  But the talks were not in the last few days of the Clinton presidency.  They began on January 20, 2001 —— the day Clinton left office.  And Carter's factual mistake in this regard is not inconsequential.

David Makovsky, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, whose 'Taba Mythchief' in the Spring 2003 issue of The National Interest remains one of the most comprehensive discussions of Taba to date, noted that the Palestinians specifically wanted Taba to begin after Clinton left office, because they thought they 'were about to reap a political windfall' —— Clinton's replacement by Bush 43, the son of a Republican president (Bush 41) who had been memorably unsympathetic to Israel.  The Palestinians' thinking, according to Makovsky, was that American Jews, who had supported the Democrats, would be losers in a new Bush Administration, especially given the Bush family connections to the oil industry.  At Taba, the Palestinians actually withdrew from positions they had taken at Camp David and 'widened the gaps' on several fundamental issues.  Carter mentions none of this.

The facts, demonstrable from many published accounts by people who, unlike Carter, were actually there (Dennis Ross at Camp David and Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami at Taba) is that Israel offered the Palestinians a contiguous state on 100% of Gaza and close to all of the West Bank (after compensatory land swaps), with a capital in East Jerusalem, and the Palestinians refused, multiple times.

But it is when he gets to the 2003 Road Map that Carter is at his most egregious.  Carter states the Palestinians 'accepted the road map in its entirety' (page 159), that Palestinian leaders had 'accepted all provisions of the Quartet's Roadmap for Peace' (page 173), that there was 'no doubt' Abbas was 'dedicated' to a 'peace agreement in accordance with the Roadmap' (page 173), and that Abbas 'has publicly endorsed [the Road Map] without equivocation' (page 187).  He attributes the failure of the Road Map to Israeli 'caveats.'

Surely Carter is aware that the Palestinians had, under Phase I of the Road Map, an immediate obligation —— not contingent on any Israeli action —— to begin

'sustained, targeted, and effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure.'

And surely Carter is aware that Abbas bragged to the Palestinian Legislative Council on September 6, 2003 that he had in fact refused to carry out that obligation, and had repeatedly ignored American and Israeli entreaties to meet the Palestinian obligation he had accepted 'without reservation.'  Abbas' speech can easily be retrieved using Google, but it is nowhere mentioned in Carter's book.

And finally, Carter is obviously aware that in August 2005, notwithstanding the Palestinian failure, Israel exceeded its own Phase I obligations —— which required only that Israel 'dismantle settlement outposts erected since March 2001' and freeze settlement activity —— by uprooting all 21 of its longstanding settlements in Gaza (and four more in the West Bank) in their entirety, in order to give the Palestinians a chance to demonstrate their readiness to 'live side by side in peace and security' and resume the Road Map.

For this, Israel reaped more than 1,000 rockets from Gaza since August 2005, and tunnels and attacks across an international border, from an area in which no Jews remained.  This, too, is ignored in Carter's book.  He complains instead that Gaza has its own 'separation barrier' that can be 'penetrated only by Israeli—controlled checkpoints' (the same way that the international border of most other countries of the world can 'only' be 'penetrated').

Carter's discussion of the Israeli West Bank security barrier —— built as a last resort against years of mass murder bombers targeting Israeli civilians, and in the face of a complete and continuous Palestinian refusal to meet its Phase I Road Map obligation —— is never other than pejorative.  He uses various terms —— the 'segregation wall,' the 'imprisonment wall,' the 'encircling barrier . . . imposing a system of . . . apartheid,' the 'huge dividing wall' —— that are simply Palestinian talking points, not an attempt at serious discussion.  He makes no effort to describe the conditions that produced the barrier, and does not even fairly state the Israeli position regarding it.

This is not a serious book.  It is poorly written, thoroughly unbalanced, factually erroneous on fundamental points —— the product of someone who went to Israel in 1973 and didn't like it then, lectured and insulted its leaders, and who obviously doesn't like it now.

Those interested in why Camp David failed should consult Dennis Ross' book; those interested in why Taba failed should consult Makovsky's article and Shlomo Ben—Ami's book; those interested in why the Road Map failed should consult Natan Sharansky and Ron Dermer's book The Case for Democracy.

As for this book, it will be of no use to those interested in a responsible discussion of the Israeli—Palestinian conflict.  But it may be useful to historians pondering the perspective of a U.S. president who presided over the 1979 fall of a strategic ally in Iran and his replacement by a theocracy now pursuing nuclear weapons.  At the time, Carter may have been impressed by the new leaders' deep religious convictions.

Rick Richman edits Jewish Current Issues.  His articles have appeared in The American Thinker, The Jewish Press, and the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles.
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