Thursday, December 14, 2006

Carter, Israel, and Apartheid: How Can a Decent Man Get it So Wrong?

As a longtime fan of Jimmy Carter, I must say that I'm disappointed by the position that he has adopted regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, as set forth in his new book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid (which I haven't read) and in an op-ed piece for the LA Times (which I have read). In the op-ed article, Carter makes the audacious claim that the plight of the Palestinians is "more oppressive than what blacks lived under in South Africa during apartheid." This analogy is wrong for many reasons, as has been pointed out by numerous people (here, here, and here), and I agree with Michael Kinsely that it is "unworthy of the man who won—and deserved—the Nobel Peace Prize for bringing Israel and Egypt together in the Camp David Accords, and who has lent such luster to the imaginary office of former president." Does Carter really believe this apartheid nonsense, or is it merely a cynical attempt to sell more books? I hope it's the latter, but either way, I've lost a lot of respect for the former president.

Carter seems to have swallowed, without reservations, the Palestinian narrative of the conflict, which places nearly all of the blame on Israel. Absent from his op-ed piece is any acknowledgment that the Palestinians, through their relentless campaign of terror against Israeli civilians, are also responsible for the lack of a permanent peace (the word "terrorism" only appears once in the article, and it is not used in connection with the Palestinians). Carter also lauds the Palestinian community for their successful elections in 1996, 2005, and 2006, but fails to mention that the 2006 election brought to power Hamas, a terrorist group that has long advocated the destruction of Israel. Apparently, Carter's eagerness to smear Israel with the "apartheid" label has made him blind to the genocidal intentions of many Palestinians.

Judging from the op-ed piece, it appears that Carter has developed something of a persecution complex with respect to the mainstream media, which he believes is firmly in the grip of the pro-Israel lobby. He complains that major newspapers have generally shunned his book, and that "reviews have been written mostly by representatives of Jewish organizations". He is also bothered that most prominent Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi, have distanced themselves from his writings. But he's not deterred: "out in the real world, however, the response has been overwhelmingly positive." What bravery! But if Jimmy should ever feel discouraged, he should remember that his anti-Israel screeds will be welcomed on just about any college campus, and in every European nation, and in the entire Muslim world (especially Iran). And if the people in these places get their way, soon there won't be any Israeli apartheid to worry about, because there won't be any Israel.


Patrik said...

Well, I can only say that you seem to have swallowed, without reservations, the pro-Israeli narrative of the conflict. Carter's version seems very balanced to me.

Thomas Adams said...

Well, Patrik, it's not so simple. I am not uncritical of Israeli policy. For instance, I think the settler movement was a big mistake, and that the recent incursion into Southern Lebanon was both a strategic and humanitarian disaster. My rule of thumb when it comes to the Middle East is this: anyone who thinks the blame lies entirely (or even largely) on one side is a fool. Thus, Carter’s recent statements seem foolish to me, despite my deep respect for what the man has accomplished in his lifetime.

The part of the Israeli narrative that I do accept, without reservations, is the right of the Jewish nation to exist and defend itself. Of course, this requires Israel to implement security measures, such as check-points and barriers, that Carter has labeled apartheid, when really it’s just a nation trying to defend its citizens from inevitable terrorist attacks. Large numbers of Palestinians and much of the Arab world, are bent on the utter annihilation of Israel. Anyone who does not acknowledge this fact is not viewing the situation with clear eyes, and certainly doesn’t deserve the description “very balanced”.

Patrik said...

While I do think apartheid is a very strong word to use, I think it is becoming more and more justified, especially because of the so called security fence (wall) that makes life for ordinary Palestinians extremely difficult, the repeated overviolence of IDF against Palestinian civilians, including children, and finally the repeated failures of the Israeli government to live up to agreements and rulings of international law.

While it may be that the very existence of Israel is considered blasphemous to some Muslim leaders (Iran) I have seen little real evidence that this is a widespread attitude among ordinary Muslims in the region. Robert Fisk claims these kinds of attitudes have become more common among Palestinians in recent years, because of the hardening policy of the Israeli occupation forces, but still it seems most Palestinians want peace more than anything else.

If you check the discussions of for example the Haaretz website, you will notice that it is the pro-Israeli comment that are the most "fanatic", referring to biblical borders and claiming that all of "judea and samaria" belongs to Israel and that Jews have been living in the area constantly for thousands of years.

While I would never claim that anything about the Middle East is simple, it must be stated that is Israel that has the power to do something creative towards peace. This means that a lot of responsibility lies with the Israeli government. The Palestinian Authority is very weak, and not the least because of Hamas, an organization that Israel used to actively support to reduce the power of the PLO.

The current situation is, if we look at the facts, and lay aside for the moment speculations about intentions, that Saudi-Arabia has proposed a peace plan that would mean that most of the Arab world would recognize Israel in exchange for a return to 1967 borders. But Israel is not showing any interest in giving up the larger illegal colonies ("settlements"), but is instead drawing up new permanent borders by building this wall.

I'm not condoning terror or any killing of anybody really, especially not civilians, but if you look at the number of casualties on either side you will notice that the dead Palestinians vastly outnumber the dead Israeli. One would have to be very naive not to see that this situation will only breed more violence.

Thomas Adams said...

Patrik – I do not doubt that the Palestinian people are suffering, and that “most Palestinians want peace more than anything else.” However, a quick glace at recent history makes it clear that a good deal of their suffering is self-inflicted, as it flows from the corruption and incompetence of their so-called leaders. Here, the shameful legacy of Yasser Arafat comes to mind. This man, who never missed an opportunity to profit from his people’s misery, deserves much of the blame for the current impasse. In the Camp David meetings during the 1990’s, the Israelis (under P.M Barak), along with President Clinton, did “something creative towards peace”, repeatedly offering Arafat land and nationhood in exchange for peace. Arafat, to the eternal dismay of President Clinton, simply refused the most generous offer ever made by an Israeli government (this is all clearly documented in Clinton’s autobiography, My Life). After sabotaging the peace process, Arafat then lent his support to the second intifada, funneling arms and munitions to terrorist groups. Since his death, no Palestinian government has proved itself capable of reigning in militants (not that Arafat was ever interested in doing so), and the corruption and in-fighting has only gotten worse (case in point: the chaos that we’ve witnessed the past week).

I assure you that the Israelis want peace. They are tired of conflict; hence the voluntary destruction of the Gaza Strip settlements. But how is a two-state solution possible until the Palestinians prove that they can govern themselves? Who can the Israelis negotiate with? Hamas?! Saudi Arabia – a nation whose government-supported textbooks are filled with anti-Semitic vitriol? Don’t be silly.

Finally, I think you are being incredibly na├»ve about the extent and intensity of anti-Jewish sentiment in the Middle East. This hatred is not confined to just Iran, but is pervasive throughout the Muslim world. You mention some fanatical pro-Israel comments on a particular website, but I wonder if you have the stomach to explore one of the thousands of jihadist websites that call for the extermination of the Jews. It’s one thing to talk tough about “biblical borders” – it’s quite another to deny the Holocaust while planning one of your own. As one rabbi said after meeting with Jimmy Carter: "I don't know if he gets the evil that we are facing." I’m afraid that you don’t get it either.

Patrik said...

I'm not going to deny the existence of extremism in the middle east. That would be absurd. I'm just trying to get a picture of the extent of it. For this anti Israel jihadist pages cannot be compared to one of Israel's major liberal newspapers.

That the Israelis wan peace (most of them) I'm assured of. I'm not so sure about the Israeli leaders.

And I'm not so sure about Clinton's account of the Camp David meetings. The west always like to believe that Arafat had the capability to control the Palestininans, (which leader has 100% control over his or her citizens?) even if Israel has constantly been doing its best to weaken this control, by providing Hamas with weapons, by attacking leaders (in "legal" targeted killings) and so on.

I'm not saying the blame is all on the Israeli side. But I'm saying that the Israelis are maybe to blame for a bit more than is usually recognized, especially in the US.

Also, you will notice that the Irani presidents madness was duly punished in yesterdays elections.

Thomas Adams said...

Patrik – Yes, I was happy to see the results of the Iranian elections. Let’s hope that this signals the beginning of the end of Ahmadinejad’s rule. But his very existence is proof that extremism in the Middle East is not confined to a few websites. It’s in the halls of government, on the pages of every Arab newspaper, and broadcast around the world on satellite TV. In terms of hatred spewed towards the other side, the Israeli media could never hope to compete.

But in the interest of consensus, I’m willing to acknowledge that “the Israelis are maybe to blame for a bit more than is usually recognized” in the US press, as long as the emphasis is on the “a bit”. The solution to this problem, though, is not to replace this pro-Israel bias with the pro-Palestinian bias found in the European press, although this seems to be the goal of former President Carter in writing his latest book.

As for who deserves the blame for the breakdown of the Camp David accords, I’m sure we will never be able agree on that. Yet it must be acknowledged, even by the most ardent Palestinian partisans, that Arafat blundered tragically in not accepting Barak’s offer. Sadly, given the tit-for-tat of the current situation, it may be decades before the Palestinians see another offer so generous.

Finally, I want to thank you for a cordial and polite discussion of these issues. I know from personal experience how emotionally charged the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is, and how difficult it can be to discuss these matters with someone "on the other side". Thanks again for an enjoyable debate.

Lawrence of Arabia said...

i think carter's claim is pretty minimal and relatively true. the conditions under which the palestinians live inside the gaza and west bank are essentially prison camp conditions with the israeli military acting as prison guards. carter makes pretty clear that he is not talking about the conditions within israel proper.

as for the iranian elections, i think you are right to say they show the mood of the country to not be in line with the current president. but it should also be remembered that no elected official in iran has a great deal authority. the true power in iran remains immune to popular elections. it would take the willingness of the ayatollah to step aside or a revolution in order to really change the political direction of iran.