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Book Review: Palestine – Peace Not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter

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Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter is committed to the idea of peace. He helped broker the peace deal between Egypt and Israel after they were unable to come to agreement amongst themselves. He has long engaged in second-track diplomacy efforts in places such as Haiti and North Korea. The Carter Center has monitored elections around the world and provided forums to discuss ways to improve the world and bring peace.

His support for the "ecumenical Christian" Habitat for Humanity program has provided homes for people around the world. Yet, in his latest work Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Carter — by defending violence and through an unbalanced, polemical presentation — has violated basic principles of conflict resolution and has worked against the basic principles of peace.

His book is intended to convince America's Christian community to not support Israel. It is replete with statements reminiscent of a long and painful history of Christian anti-Semitism. Carter makes spurious claims of Israeli discrimination against the Christian Palestinian population, but totally ignores the serious charges of abuses of Christians by the Palestinian Authority and Islamic radicals such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In recalling his first visit to Israel, he claims that Samaritan accusations of disrespect by Israeli authorities were "the same complaints heard by Jesus and his disciples almost two thousand years earlier."

Carter acknowledges that his views on Israel are shaped by his fundamentalist Christianity. He recalls a conversation in 1967 with Golda Meir in which he "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." It is quite odd that Carter berates Israel for its secular character, as Israeli Jews, just like European Christians mostly identify as secular. Would he level the same charges against Europe? Probably not.

Carter's tome is surprisingly shoddy. Professor Kenneth Stein of Emory University resigned as a distinguished fellow from the Carter Center in protest of what he referred to as a work "replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions, and simply invented segments." Professor Stein noted that his recollection of events has "little similarity to points claimed in the book." Dr. Stein noted that "Being a former President does not give one a unique privilege to invent information."

Seven years after Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, the author accuses Israel of still occupying portions of Lebanon. Carter claims, on page 98, that Israel retains "its presence only in Shebaa Farms." This attempt to accuse Israel of violating international law is just one of too many false accusations levelled against Israel. In 2004, Kofi Annan noted that Israel was not occupying Lebanon. A 2005 report by the UN Security Council noted that the "blue line", which does not include the Shebaa Farm area, serves as Lebanon's border and recognizes that Israel is in compliance with all United Nations resolutions calling for a withdrawal to Lebanon's international border. Carter's defence of Hezbollah's claims of Lebanese sovereignty over the Shebaa Farms area is in direct defiance of international law and numerous statements from the United Nations. Not only are Carter's statements false, but they also do not lead to peace.

In a recollection of Carter's first meeting with Yasser Arafat in France in 1990, Carter claims that he "pushed him [Arafat] to fulfill his Oslo promise to modify the PLO charter to accept Israel's existence" yet the Oslo Accords were not signed until September 1993! How could Carter push Arafat to modify commitments that he would not make until three years later? If Carter is able to make such blatant errors in his book, how many other false statements has he made? How can one tell where falsity ends and fact begins? This is not an issue of political disputes or disagreeing with Carter's viewpoints but rather the falsification of fact. As one analyst noted, "facts are bipartisan," but yet Carter seems to not be able to distinguish fact from fantasy.

Carter one-sidedly refers to the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, and, at times, even parts of the pre-1967 borders of Israel as "Arab territories." Yet, there has been a Jewish presence in Jerusalem and the West Bank since Biblical times – for thousands of years. Carter's labelling of the territories as "occupied Arab territories" is unbalanced and misleading. While there is also an Arab claim to the territories, it is no stronger than the Jewish claim. Carter seems to accept at face value the Islamic concept of "dar al-Islam" in which any land that was under Muslim rule is always Muslim property. If one accepts this Islamic idea (it is odd that Carter, a religious Christian, seems to accept this Muslim category) than one should also refer to Spain, Portugal and Italy as "occupied Arab territory."

Carter even acknowledges that some of his claims are false, including his inflammatory and false use of the term "apartheid." Despite Carter's use of the term, he has publicly acknowledged in numerous forums that the term "apartheid" is not an accurate term to describe Israel and its thriving democracy. In a recent letter responding to his critics, President Carter noted that "in Israel … a democracy exists with all the freedoms we enjoy in our country [the United States] and Israeli Jews and Arabs are legally guaranteed the same rights as citizens."

Carter defends noted human rights abuses and abusers. He claims that Syria is unwilling to accommodate with Israel due to Israel's control of the Golan Heights, ignoring Syria's long history as a dictatorship that represses its own people. Despite Hafez al-Assad's refusal to visit the United States due to an invitation from Carter in a "polite but firm rebuff," Carter describes him as "very intelligent, eloquent, and frank." He often has very positive things to say about dictators, but very little positive to say about Israel's democratically elected leadership. He has defended Syria's 30-year occupation of Lebanon.

Carter spends several pages in Palestine defending Saudi Arabia and idealizing it as coming out of Arabian Nights. While he mentions that on his visit, he went off with the men while his wife "was whisked off to visit Saudi women, who were in a different camp entirely, over the sand dunes and out of sight," his romanticizing of the Saudi regime's segregation and oppression leave the reader to wonder if Carter really is committed to human rights in the Middle East.

The official policy of the State of Israel has always been a two-state solution. As Carter notes, survey after survey shows that Israelis yearn for peace. From the dovish Meretz to the hawkish Yisrael Beiteinu and National Union parties, Israelis yearn for peace and have supported territorial compromise in exchange for peace in secure and defensible borders. While Israel is not perfect, there is a vibrant debate in Israeli society. Israelis understand that the actions implemented to prevent murder and harm to innocent Israelis of all religions prevent hardships to many Palestinians. They look forward to the day when courageous leaders, like Anwar Sadat, will come forward to make peace with Israel. As President Carter himself noted, "the majority of Israelis sincerely want a peaceful existence with their neighbors."

It is unfortunate that President Carter has forgotten his own words, and forgotten his own quest for peace, in his screed. Sadly, as all Israelis look forward and hope for the day in which Palestinians and Israelis will live side-by-side in two states for two peoples, one-sided attacks by people like President Carter do not serve the cause of peace and coexistence so desired by Israel. Israel is committed to working with the Palestinians toward a peaceful, diplomatic solution where both sides can have a better future.

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About amechad

  • TPonzio

    What is the value of an Israeli’s negative review of Carter’s book? In general, reviews of political works should not be written by people with obvious prejudices. It’s like the CEO of Pepsi harping on Coke!

  • Did you even bother to read the review, TPonzio? Why not judge it on the cogency of its arguments and the accuracy of its facts? Why close your mind because of the nationality of its author?

    If you do close your mind for such a shallow reason, why should anyone else care what you think?

  • Jill Friedman

    This review is biased, inaccurate and unprofessional, and distorts what is actually in the book. Amechad claims that Carter condones violence. On the contrary, very early in the book, and repeatedly throughout, Mr. Carter clearly condemmns all violence. Apparently there was one poorly worded sentence in the book that gave the impression of condoning violence; Mr. Carter has apologized for it and arranged for it to be removed from future editions. Nor does Mr. Carter ever imply that Christians should stop supporting Israel. He repeatedly urges restarting the peace process and speaks about his love and concern for Israel and his ongoing desire for peace in Israel.

    Mr. Carter has also repeatedly stated in his speeches and interviews that Israel is a democracy and that he has no complaints about the system in Israel, and points out that his book is entitled PALESTINE Peace not Apartheid, that the Apartheid-like situation he is referring to is in PALESTINE, not Israel, and just as the title says, he wants PEACE in Palestine. As for the comparison of occupied Palestine to apartheid South Africa, the first people to make the comparison were people who experienced apartheid first hand , including former South African President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Mr. Carter also urges people who have questions about his description of conditions in Palestine or find it hard to believe, to travel there and see for themselves.

    To understand the meaning in a book or the author’s intent it is necessary to read the whole book, and interpret it as a whole, in context, not pick out sentences here and there to make a point. Even if there are some historic inaccuracies, the general situation that exists today is explained accurately enough, and that’s the main point of the book.

    In the same way, to understand a person and his intentions it is helpful to view him in the context of his life and all the things he has said and done throughout the years. Jimmy Carter is above all a compassionate humanitarian who has throughout his life done many things to earn my respect. His book is a personal account of things he has experienced and observed, his feelings and impressions, and his hopes for the future. A diplomat by nature, his tendency is not to take sides, but to speak with many people and try to understand them all, including people this reviewer does not approve of. He will not debate, because it’s not in his nature, and it’s not necessary. He’s made his contribution by writing the book, and I recommend that people read it with an open mind.

  • Joel

    I read the book. I thought it to be true and honest like the man himself. One can only hope that future politicans will learn from Carters wisdom and not be afraid to speak up for what they believe in. This is America. But unfortunately in the US, where a person can live or die by the press; I won’t be holding my breath for anyone seeking office to be critical of Israel. In the end, we all lose.

  • Any Jew stupid enough to defend this asswipe of a peanut farmer and his bullshit book deserves all the Jew-hatred that the goyim in the States pour on her – and more.

    I have an awful long memory – and I remember the bastard in office. I was stupid enough to vote for him. He did two good things in his entire administration – he got on TV and told Americans they suffered from a malaise of consumerism, and he tried to subsidize alternative energy.

    THAT’S IT. AND T. Ponzio, I’m talking as someone who lived in the United States at the time.

    He didn’t grow into anything after he was booted out of office – except to be a bigger anti-Semite than he already was. In the book, Mayor, Ed Koch recounted that he was told that Carter was planning to sell Israel out to the PLO if he had been elected to a second term. This book confirms what Koch was told then.

    Carter, in this book, bought into the Arab lies of calling Israel an apartheid society. I can say that because I live here, and know the difference between apartheid – which oppresses the vast majority of the population, and Israeli policies, which reflect the unstable dictatorship of a secular elite that does not really believe in its mission for the country, and is more of a mafia than anything else. At this point, Carter is nothing more than a second-rate peddler of the Jew-hatred Arabs push on all of us. He should be locked up in a retirement home.

    We do not deserve his trash on the open market.

  • Bliffle

    I’ve not read the book, and probably won’t because i think it’s unwise to use loaded words like “apartheid”, “nazi” and even “terrorist” carelessly and without considerable forethought. In particular, “apartheid” has a meaning so special and so particular to the South African experience, both black and white, both prior to and after 1994, that it is disrespectful to use it generically. In fact, “apartheid” carries so much historical and emotional freight that it cannot be applied in a general-purpose way.

    Even to me, living 10,000 miles away, never having been to Africa, barely knowing anyone who visited SA, and on the whole very little personal acquaintance with the situation, it has profound implications. Perhaps that is because observation and evolution over a long period of time substitutes for intimate knowledge.

    It was dumb of Carter to attempt to get reflected respectability for palestinians by likening the situation to apartheid. the israel/palestine situation deserves attention all of it’s own. That woulod give it proper gravity, but calling it ‘apartheid’ trivializes it by picturing it as subsidiary to the SA experience. Ho hum, just another racist regime. Has the opposite effect from that desired.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    “What is the value of an Israeli’s negative review of Carter’s book?”

    The value is not to provide “objectivity,” which is something that the author of the review strove for in his article. The book is about Israel and James Earl Carter’s view of it in his sere and yellow…

    Hundreds of reviews of this book have been written by people with no more understanding of the problems here than they have of the back end of a cow, but they have been published and accepted and praised…

    The author of this review has very clear and authoritative knowledge of the subject, which surrounds him daily. Plus, he evinces clear understanding of the importance of Carter’s own religious background and how it influenced his own views.

    Carter felt confident enough to lecture a woman who was probably more of an agnostic than a Jew in her beliefs, but he positively felt contempt for a man who was proud to be a Jew, Menahem Begin; he resented Begin lecturing him; and did everything he could to undermine him as prime minister.

    The value of an Israeli view of this book is that Carter influenced history here – for the bad – and an Israeli should most assuredly speak up about this evil man.

    In my own opinion, Amechad did not go anywhere near far enough in excoriating the scummy peanut farmer from Georgia. But for me to write a review, I’d have to buy the book. I have better things to spend my money on.

  • Robert Hume

    Yossi Beilin, a former minister and current member of Israel’s parliament, has fairly reviewed President Carter’s book on the Palestinian-Israeli problem in “The Forward”

    Some extracts:

    “In other words, what Carter says in his book about the Israeli occupation and our treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories — and perhaps no less important, how he says it — is entirely harmonious with the kind of criticism that Israelis themselves voice about their own country. There is nothing in the criticism that Carter has for Israel that has not been said by Israelis themselves.”

    In the context of the Israeli-Arab conflict, moreover, Carter has secured his place in history as the man who brokered the first peace agreement between Israel and an Arab nation. The Camp David summit he convened in September 1978, which resulted in the signing of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, was a historical watershed for the entire region. It inaugurated the Arab-Israeli peace process, without which the Oslo peace process would not have been possible, nor the 1994 peace agreement between Israel and Jordan.

    In light of the failure of the second Camp David summit of July 2000, Carter’s successful mediation between such starkly different leaders as Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat is all the more impressive, and his achievement — which was a truly personal achievement — all the more remarkable.

    Every Israeli, and every Jew to whom the destiny of Israel is important, is indebted to Carter for breaking the ring of hostility that had choked Israel for more than 30 years. No American president before him had dedicated himself so fully to the cause of Israel’s peace and security, and, with the exception of Bill Clinton, no American president has done so since.

    This is why the publication of Carter’s recent book, and perhaps more than anything else, the title it bears, has pained so many people. And I must admit that, on some deeply felt level, the title of the book has strained my heart, too. Harsh and awful as the conditions are in the West Bank, the suggestion that Israel is conducting a policy of apartheid in the occupied territories is simply unacceptable to me.

    But is this what Carter is saying? I have read his book, and I could not help but agree — however agonizingly so — with most if its contents. Where I disagreed was mostly with the choice of language, including his choice of the word “apartheid.”

    But if we are to be fair, and as any reading of the book makes clear, Carter’s use of the word “apartheid” is first and foremost metaphorical. Underlying Israel’s policy in the West Bank, he argues, is not a racist ideology but rather a nationalist drive for the acquisition of land. The resulting violence, and the segregationist policies that shape life in the West Bank, are the ill-intended consequences of that drive.

    Of course, there is no appropriate term in the political lexicon for what we in Israel are doing in the occupied territories. “Occupation” is too antiseptic a term, and does not capture the social, cultural and humanitarian dimensions of our actions. Given the Palestinians’ role in the impasse at which we have arrived, to say nothing of Arab states and, historically speaking, of the superpowers themselves, I would describe the reality of occupation as a march of folly — an Israeli one, certainly, but not exclusively so.

    But if we are to read Carter’s book for what it is, I think we would find in it an impassioned personal narrative of an American former president who is reflecting on the direction in which Israel and Palestine may be going if they fail to reach agreement soon. Somewhere down the line — and symbolically speaking, that line may be crossed the day that a minority of Jews will rule a majority of Palestinians west of the Jordan River — the destructive nature of occupation will turn Israel into a pariah state, not unlike South Africa under apartheid.

  • sandy

    I’m still reading the book, and i don’t get any sentiment of anti-semitism from it. i am not a jew or a muslim or a christian, just a curious reader. one thing i don’t understand, is why are there so many jewish settlements in palestinian territories? why is the “wall” built on palestinian land, and squeezing off palestinian land into israel? and why is there so much more land deemed for israel when there are way more palestinians living in that area?
    please do not think these are biased questions, these are sincere questions looking for genuine answers. does anyone know?

  • Pravdaddy

    Carter has repeatedly counseled his Arab leader friends to value their own personal and political survival over courage or leadership. He deliberately provoked Jews (and other lovers of Israel) with his inflammatory title and obtuse book, and then whined about their negative response. He has accused the Simon Weisenthal Center of slander. Virtually no one in the Democratic Party has any use for him. Bill Clinton was infuriated by his meddling in international affairs. His election was a fluke, an overreaction to Watergate (and I must admit that I voted for him TWICE–where can I go to get my two votes back?). He was an atrocious president, is an atrocious ex-president and he will be forgotten before too long, hopefully before he can do much more damage.

  • Patricia

    Jimmy Carter is great! I would like to go out and buy the book. Seeing him present the book on MEET THE PRESS I was so happy to have had an former Presidnent that can open their eyes about Palestine what the U.S. Government is mostly hiding about Israel. None of this would have happened between Palestine and Israel if Israel if the U.N. never allowed the Israeli’s to forcefully move into Palestine. I still know it as the country of Palestine and not Israel.

  • Patricia

    Responding to Sandy’s message:

    Your only considered “anti-semitic” if you don’t agree with what the Israeli’s are doing, I am sorry to say. I am not anti-semitic either but I do not agree what Israel has been doing with Palestinians either. Also the Jewish settlements were allowed with the help of the U.N. about 1948. There was a lot of force and brutality against the Palestinians. You don’t even know the half of it and I am so sure if I were to go into it a lot of people would get mad for telling the truth but it’s no lie as it’s all in the search engines. The wall of the divide in Palestine is built because Palestinians still come (“illegally” if you will to their own land) to Jerusalam to see their land. You have to understand Sandy that Israel has their own passports and palestine has a card simillar to a green card in the U.S.A. the Palestinians are treated unfairly. Good ol’ American funds Israel over 8 billion dollars in Aid to Israel. I would think that some of that money should go to Palestine but instead they cut off anything to Palestine. It’s such a very sad situation.

  • George

    I just finished reading this book and I think Carter is genuinely interested in pushing for peace in the region. I think some unfairly label him as an anti-semite simply because he holds Israeli government policy as being the main obstacle to peace. His main points are valid and hopefully this book won’t be ignored in the US – for the sake of peace.

  • Monica

    To Amechad: The comparison that you make about “Arab territories” of Spain, Portugal and Italy is lame. They are no way similar to what Carter is trying to say about Palestinian land. Also, you seem to attack every little thing that he says as though Carter has no idea of what is going on in neither Palestine nor Israel. For once an American like Carter dared writing a book bringing a different perspective than the usual, dominant Israeli version that always supports Israel and only attacks the Arabs. You did not make any comment about the part where Carter says “some people showed us the wreckage of their former homes that had been demolished by Israeli bulldozers and dynamite in order to make the new nation of Israel”. This part clearely shows how Israel was made which is by killing Palestinians, removing them from their own land and taking more “Arab territories”. It is the reason for which there is a conflict between the two and Israel puts all the effort to worsen the situation in the Middle East by killing more innocent Palestinians and taking more “Arab territories”. How are things going to improve in this area if all that the Israeli government does is lie about this affair? They lie especially to the United States and Europe by manipulating people with those lies in order to make them on the side of the Israelis and against Palestinians.

  • Chrigid

    I’ve always been dismayed by the claim that Israel has simply come home to the land that it was on 2000 years ago. Can the Iroquois come and throw me out of my home in the U.S.? Can I go to Northern Ireland and throw out all the Protestants because they’ve only been there 400 years?

    I’ve always believed–and still do–that a homeland is necessary for Jewish survival, but this claim is totally bogus.