Carter in Britain: There He Went Again

Jimmy Carter was in Britain last week, receiving an honorary degree from Oxford University, which will offer a course later this year entitled "The Middle Ease and the West:  From Confrontation to Coexistence."  The course "aims to shed some light on the real causes of conflict" in the Middle East and will use Carter's error-ridden book as "background reading."  

At Oxford's Mansfield College, Carter delivered the Seventh Annual Hands Lecture ("Peace with Justice in the Middle East") and provided what he described as a "brief and accurate summary" of the current situation.  And there he went again.

In Carter's telling, after Hamas did well in the 2005 local elections, there was "a remarkable reduction of violence and corruption" in the communities Hamas controlled.  Hamas then won the January 2006 national election, but Fatah -- "[d]espite my strong urging" -- rejected a Hamas offer to form a unity government.

Then Israel and the U. S. "decided to punish all the Palestinians for this political choice" and "cut off humanitarian assistance to the beleaguered and imprisoned people" and withheld revenues.  Carter described this policy as "persecution and abuse."  

Later a "fragile unity government was negotiated at Mecca," but a "struggle continued between Fatah and Hamas security forces in Gaza, with the United States providing military weapons and support to Fatah."  The result:  "Fervent Hamas fighters prevailed in bloody battles."  Now, however, Hamas is offering a "complete cease fire" with Israel. 

Carter's "brief and accurate summary" reflected many of the unfortunate aspects of his involvement in Middle East issues:  his open admiration for Hamas (with its "remarkable reduction of violence," its "fervent" fighters, its offers of a "unity" and "complete" ceasefire); his active efforts to subvert American foreign policy (which was seeking to keep Abbas from joining with Hamas while Carter was "strongly urging" the contrary); and his tendentious description of his own country's position (the "persecution and abuse" was a refusal to fund Hamas until it recognized Israel, renounced terrorism, and accepted prior agreements -- and was combined with increased U.S. humanitarian aid directly to Palestinian NGOs in the interim).

But the truly remarkable part of Carter's address was his conclusion, in which he asserted that the Arab proposal commands large majorities within the Palestinian and Israeli publics and is thus a hopeful plan for peace:
"Despite the existing crisis, there is still hope for long-term peace based on the Arab proposal.  In fact, a recent poll by the Harry S. Truman Institute in Jerusalem's Hebrew University found 81 percent approval among citizens in the occupied territories and 63 percent approval among Israelis."  [Emphasis added, both here and below].
But the Truman Institute poll shows nothing of the sort, and Carter's asserted percentages for the Arab proposal are nowhere found in the Institute's report.  Moreover, like the altered maps in his book and his disingenuous description of UN Resolution 242, Carter's misrepresentation of the Truman Institute poll is not a small mistake.  So here we go again:

The Truman Institute's most recent poll was released on December 27, 2006.  This is how the Institute described the poll results for the Arab proposal:
"As to the Arab League (Arab Saudi) plan, both publics seem to be quite ignorant about it. 47% of the Israelis and 44% of the Palestinians claimed they have never heard of the plan. Only 22% of the Israelis and 25% of the Palestinians said they know some or most of its details.  After briefing our respondents on its essential elements, 29% of the Israelis and 59% of the Palestinians support the plan compared to 69% and 38% respectively who oppose it."
Carter's 81% and 63% figures are not there.  In addition, the next sentence in the Truman Institute report explained the dramatic difference between the 59% (not 81%) of Palestinians and the 29% (not 63%) of Israelis who support the Arab plan:
"This sizeable difference in support can be explained by the vague reference in the [Arab] plan to the refugees issue and UN resolution 194, which is often interpreted by Israelis as allowing return of refugees to proper Israel and compensation."
In other words, once the Arab plan (with its code words for a "right of return" to Israel) was explained, a majority of Palestinians (but nowhere near the 81% alleged by Carter) supported it, and less than a third of Israelis (not the 63% alleged by Carter) supported it. 

How did Carter get it so wrong?  There is a simple explanation -- which is itself quite revealing -- but to understand it, one needs first to review the rest of the Truman Institute poll, which polled not only support for the Arab plan but for the Clinton Parameters (which would have given the Palestinians a state on 100% of Gaza and 97% of the West Bank, with a capital in Jerusalem).

The poll results for the Clinton Parameters showed that only 48% of Palestinians supported them on an overall basis.  The Institute also polled the Palestinians on the individual components of the Clinton proposal, and the only part that generated majority was a 100% Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank (after a compensating land swap for the 3% retained under the Clinton plan).  Every other aspect of the Clinton Parameters was rejected:

1.  Refugees54% of Palestinians opposed settling the refugee issue on the basis of the Clinton plan (which contemplated an unlimited right of return to the new Palestinian state, limited admissions to Israel, and monetary compensation for all refugees for their "refugeehood" and loss of property).

2.  Jerusalem.  59% of Palestinians opposed the Clinton plan proposal for Jerusalem, under which East Jerusalem would become the capital of the Palestinian state with all Arab neighborhoods and the Old City coming under Palestinian sovereignty -- but with retention by Israel of the Jewish Quarter and the "Wailing Wall."

3.  Demilitarized State.  70% of Palestinians opposed the demilitarized state envisioned under the Clinton plan, even though the plan provided that the state would have both a "strong security force" and a multinational force deployed to ensure its security and safety.

4.  Security Arrangements.  55% of Palestinians opposed a compromise under which the Palestinian state would have sovereignty over its land, water, and airspace, but Israel would have the right to use the airspace for training purposes and to maintain two early warning stations in the West Bank.

The conventional wisdom is that the Palestinians made a tragic mistake in rejecting Clinton's proposal -- a rejection allegedly caused by the inability of the Arafat to shift from revolutionary to statesman at a critical moment.  But the Truman Institute poll shows that -- six years after a new intifada devastated their economy, led them into the moral abyss of relentless mass-murder bombing, discredited the peace camp in Israel, and made it highly unlikely the Clinton proposal will ever be offered again -- the majority of Palestinians still reject a peace agreement even on those grounds.    

How did Carter make his 81% mistake?  By seriously mis-reading a different portion of the poll.  In another portion of its poll, the Truman Institute gave respondents a choice between two alternatives:  (1) negotiations for an interim settlement in which a Palestinian state would be established in the West Bank and Gaza while other issues, such as refugees, would be postponed; and (2) negotiations for a comprehensive settlement on all issues, including refugees.  81% of the Palestinians supported the second alternative, rejecting the phased negotiation of a permanent peace.

But the phased negotiation is precisely what the Road Map contemplates.  The plan's underlying premise was that the failure of the Oslo process, which had culminated in the rejection of the Clinton Parameters and the commencement of a new war, demonstrated that the parties remained too far apart to tackle a comprehensive settlement.  Only a phased negotiation, in which the terrorist infrastructure was first dismantled, followed by a Palestinian state with provisional borders, followed by negotiations between the two states on final status issues in an atmosphere of peace, had any chance of success. 

This is the process that 81% of Palestinians now reject.  They not only want a "comprehensive settlement" with no phases or interim steps but -- as the Truman Institute poll results make abundantly clear -- a right of return for refugees, a militarized state, a total Israeli withdrawal to what Abba Eban called Auschwitz borders, the absence of any Israeli security arrangements anywhere in the West Bank, and the elimination of Israeli control over even the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall in Jerusalem. 

No peace is possible under those conditions; every one of them is a non-starter.  You don't need to take a course at Oxford to learn that -- although it is unlikely (given the background reading) that you would learn it if you did. 

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