Carter’s ‘Palestine’: Review by Gidon Remba

Carter’s ‘Palestine’: Review by Gidon Remba

The following is a somewhat abbreviated version of Gidon Remba’s new review, published in the Winter edition of ISRAEL HORIZONS, of Jimmy Carter’s “PALESTINE PEACE NOT APARTHEID.” Pres. Carter has conceded a point (noted by Remba) at Carter’s recent visit to Brandeis University, that he mistakenly seemed to be making the Arab obligation to end violence against Israel contingent upon Israel’s unilateral acceptance of demands to withdraw from the occupied territories.

The Webcast from Brandeis also included Alan Dershowitz’s one-hour rebuttal. As reported by JTA, Dershowitz acknowledged that if Carter’s gracious words that day (Jan. 23) were typical of his book, there would not have been much controversy. Dershowitz went on to state that Carter speaks with a different voice to different audiences, that the “Brandeis Carter” is not the same as the “Al-Jezeera Carter.” But somebody in the audience was quoted as saying that he thought that Carter’s apology was absolutely sincere. (Readers may also be interested in Kenneth Stein’s article in Middle East Quarterly, “My Problem with Jimmy Carter’s Book.”) Ed.

President Jimmy Carter advocates many of the same constructive policies endorsed by moderates on the Zionist left and center in Israel and the American Jewish community: a negotiated Palestinian-Israeli peace under the rubric of the Road Map and the Geneva Initiative, two states for two peoples, an end to the expansion of settlements and the occupation of the West Bank. Nevertheless, his book is replete with major errors of fact, all systematically biased against Israel. Although Carter himself is no Israel hater, at times he does an uncanny impersonation of one, unfailingly showing deep sympathy for Palestinian perceptions, while displaying little understanding for Israeli attitudes or needs.

Apartheid and Separation Barrier

Before reviewing Carter’s troubling errors, we must give the former president his due. Even with his biases and blunders, Carter unearths a moral truth that many Jews find difficult to face. Carter describes Israel’s 40-year occupation of several million Palestinians in the West Bank as a form of “apartheid.” Despite Carter’s explicit insistence that Israel within the Green Line is a “liberal democracy,” his use of this word has provoked outrage in the American Jewish community.

Yet many Israelis and American Jews recognize Carter’s kernel of truth. It was, after all, Israel’s own Ehud Olmert, while still Sharon’s deputy prime minister, who warned in 2003 that within a few years Jews risked becoming a minority controlling an Arab majority in the land between the Jordan and the sea. If Israel did not soon leave much of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it would be forced to choose between remaining a Jewish state and a democracy. Eventually, Ariel Sharon himself grudgingly endorsed this view.

Carter concedes some of the salient differences between South African apartheid and what he terms Israel’s “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.” He understands that “apartheid in Palestine is not based on racism but the desire of a minority of Israelis for Palestinian land and the resulting suppression of protests that involve violence.”

But Carter’s analogy breaks down in his claim that Israel is constructing an “encircling barrier,” a “segregation wall,”by which it is imposing on the Palestinians a “forced separation” into “Bantustans.” For Carter, this separation recalls the original meaning of the term apartheid – which literally means “apartness” in Afrikaans – segregation, domination and disenfranchisement.

Carter writes that “the area along the Jordan River … is now planned as the eastern leg of the [Israeli] encirclement of the Palestinians….” Yet this proposal to build an “eastern fence” was unceremoniously discarded by Israel some years ago, as reported widely in the Israeli and international media. Still, Carter contends that the eastern barrier is an operative plan….

International Law

Carter often cites international law as a basis for a just peace. But on this conflict, he cites international law only when it serves his argument…. Carter lumps together Israel’s attacks on terrorists with acts of terror against Israeli civilians: The killing of noncombatants in Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon by bombs, missile attacks, assassinations, or other acts of violence cannot be condoned. These words fail to distinguish civilians taking part in hostilities — like launch squads in Gaza or Lebanon preparing to fire rockets into Israel, guerrillas who have lost their civilian noncombatant immunity under international law — from Palestinian, Lebanese and Israeli civilians who do not participate in combat and thereby qualify for protection. Article 51(3) of the 1977 Additional Protocol of the Geneva Convention is clear: “Civilians shall enjoy the protection afforded by this section, unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.”

Carter further conflates the unintended deaths of noncombatant civilians, permitted under the laws of war if the combatant is making reasonable efforts not to harm them, with deliberately targeting civilians with the aim of maximizing harm, as Palestinian suicide bombers and rocket squads always intend.

Despite his record as a humanitarian and an advocate of peace, Carter does not call for an unconditional end to Palestinian suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism. Instead he says that It is imperative that the general Arab community and all significant Palestinian groups make it clear that they will end suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism when international laws and the ultimate goals of the Roadmap for Peace are accepted by Israel.

To be sure, Carter does condemn suicide bombings as morally reprehensible and politically counterproductive for the Palestinians. But he is not prepared to demand a cessation of such heinous acts, which are war crimes, until Israel ends its own violations. Carter’s position is at variance with the laws of war, which do not permit one party to commit war crimes on the grounds that the other party is already committing them, or in response to political injustice. Under international humanitarian law, both sides have an independent and unconditional duty to obey the laws of war.

Blames Israel Only

…. Israel’s occupation, in Carter eyes, is the primary cause of the conflict, and Palestinian suicide bombings are simply a reaction to Israeli injustice. Indeed, Carter says outright that “Israel’s continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land.”

But Palestinian rejectionism preceded Israel’s occupation and is an independent cause of the conflict. Such violent rejectionism will not evaporate when the occupation ends, but it would be easier to combat if the moderates have won the day.

There are also errors of omission in Carter’s book, which are invariably biased against Israel. For example, Carter’s chronology omits any mention of the firing of more than 600 rockets by Palestinian militants into southern Israel during the months between Israel’s Gaza disengagement and the abduction of Gilad Shalit.

Carter says that the Palestinians have accepted the Road Map in its entirety, but the Israeli government announced fourteen caveats and prerequisites, some of which would preclude any final peace talks. I agree with Carter that Israel’s objections to the Road Map were intended to prevent its implementation so that Sharon could proceed with his unilateral plans. Still, the Palestinians also had major objections to the Road Map and have completely failed to live up to its most central near-term requirement on their conduct: making a sustained effort to disarm terror groups and enforce a truce.

As the US has stated many times, both sides are obliged to fulfill their commitments under the Road Map regardless of the performance of the other. Israel must dismantle the illegal West Bank settlement outposts regardless of whether the Palestinians have disarmed the terror groups, and the Palestinians cannot use Israel’s failure to take serious action against the outposts as an excuse for inaction in fulfilling their security obligations.

Clinton, Hamas, Oslo

Carter claims that Barak gave no clear response to President Clinton’s final proposal, but [Barak ] later stated that Israel had twenty pages of reservations. President Arafat rejected the proposal— a position which Carter justifies on the grounds that no Palestinian leader could accept such terms and survive.

Yossi Beilin served in Barak’s cabinet at the time. Beilin reports that, On December 28 [2000], at a meeting of the government, the [Clinton] plan was endorsed in principle together with permission to send reservations that had not been presented to the government for endorsement…. From that moment, the Clinton Plan embodied Israel’s stance on the Palestinian-Israeli issue. (From “The Path to Geneva: The Quest for a Permanent Agreement 1996-2004,” p. 223.) Ross reports this as well in his memoir, “The Missing Peace” (pp. 754-5), as does Shlomo Ben-Ami, Israel’s foreign minister at the time (see his “Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy,” p. 272)….

Carter, who should know better from his experience as a mediator, ignores the fact that Clinton never asked Arafat or Barak to accept his plan unconditionally. Arafat was not obliged to accept its terms and risk his survival, as Carter suggests, misappropriating a line Arafat used at Camp David about an earlier proposal. In December 2000, Clinton simply asked both leaders to accept his plan as a basis for further negotiations towards a peace treaty. The Israeli government agreed to continue negotiating within Clinton’s parameters.

Carter claims that the famous Palestinian Prisoners’ National Reconciliation Document endorsed a two-state proposal. He says that the prisoners’ proposal called for…acceptance of Israel as a neighbor within its legal borders. It endorsed the key UN resolutions regarding legal borders…. But it did not even mention Israel let alone recognize it or endorse UN Resolution 242 or the Arab League peace proposal. Carter ignores Hamas’s repeated denials that its willingness to accept a Palestinian state in all of the West Bank and Gaza, as called for in this document, constituted a readiness for peace with Israel.

Here is the Americans for Peace Now’s analysis of the prisoners’ document on this crucial point: … in the introduction of the revised document—which the paper says must be considered as part of the whole initiative—it is stated that the document is being put forth ‘on the basis of no recognition of the legitimacy of occupation.’ Given that Hamas has considered all of Israel to be occupied territory, in addition to the West Bank and Gaza, it’s unclear that the moderates have achieved any sort of compromise on this matter from Hamas.’ Indeed, one Hamas legislator, Salah al-Bardawil, told Reuters, ‘We said we accept a state in 1967 — but we did not say we accept two states.’….”

Another misrepresentation is Carter’s belief that Withdrawal to the 1967 border [is] specified in UN Resolution 242 and …promised in the Camp David Accords and the Olso Agreement and prescribed in the Roadmap of the International Quartet. Again, this is a misreading of key documents. It is widely known that UN Resolution 242 omitted the definite article in its English version, referring to occupied territories so as not to dictate Israel’s complete withdrawal to the 1967 borders in exchange for peace. Moreover, the resolution called for an eventual Israeli withdrawal to secure and recognized borders in exchange for peace, which would be the outcome of negotiations, not simply a restoration of the pre-war status quo ante.

The Oslo Accords actually say nothing about what the final borders will be, and the Road Map’s call for a final peace treaty that will end the occupation which began in 1967 does not mean that the withdrawal will be to the 1967 boundaries. In a final peace accord in which the parties define the final borders, they will agree that the occupation which began in 1967 has ended.

These borders will not be identical to the 1967 lines and Carter knows this. He talks of mutually agreeable exchanges of land, perhaps permitting significant numbers of Israeli settlers to remain in their present homes near Jerusalem. He’s not wrong on the big picture — the 1967 borders must be the basis for a negotiated land swap — but he fudges important details….

GIDON D. REMBA is co-author of the forthcoming “The Great Rift: Arab-Israeli War and Peace in the New Middle East.” He served as senior foreign press editor and translator in the Israel Prime Minister’s Office during the Egyptian-Israeli peace process from 1977-‘78. He is currently active in the American Zionist peace camp from his home in Chicago. His commentaries are available online at

By | 2007-01-30T05:31:00-05:00 January 30th, 2007|Blog|0 Comments

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