Friday, January 26, 2007

Jimmy Carter's book has largely achieved what it set out to do: It has impeached Israel' image as a beleauguered state surrounded by enemies and laid the entire responsibility for the Israeli-palestinian conflict at Israel's feet. A side product is the buttressing of Arab sense of historical grievance against Israel and its greatest ally, the USA.

This achievement was calculated to weaken moral support for Israel's existence. Considering Carter's statement that Israeli abuses of Palestinians is worse than South African Apartheid, or the Rwandan genocide, Carter's de-facto intimation is that Americans must not be too heart- broken were Israel to be wiped off the map. What American in his right mind would support such a genocidal criminal state?

I hope he is happy with these results. When the next suicide bomber kills Israeli kids, he can have pride of place in the public indifference that his book has engendered.

Here's Kenneth Stein's patient, detailed, and thoughtful consideration of Carter's book.


The Roots of Carter's Anger

Carter's grievance list against Israel is long: He believes the Israeli government's failure to withdraw fully from the West Bank is illegal and immoral; he condemns settlement construction; and he lambastes its current human rights abuse in the West Bank, which he labels "one of the worst examples of human rights abuse I know."[5] From the time he was president, he has criticized Israel's confiscation of Palestinian land, usurpation of water rights, and retaliatory bulldozing of Palestinian houses. Such policies, he has argued, are responsible for the moribund Palestinian economy. Carter holds particular animus toward the security barrier, first proposed by the late prime minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner Yitzhak Rabin,[6] as the latest example of what he believes to be a policy of de facto annexation of the West Bank.

Carter sees the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the root of both U.S. unpopularity in the region and the wider problem of Middle East instability. Once the historic injustice done to the Palestinians is resolved, he believes, other issues plaguing U.S. foreign policy will dissipate, if not disappear.

Carter believes the conflict's resolution to be simple: After the Israeli government agrees in principle to withdraw fully from the West Bank, a dedicated negotiator like himself can usher in an independent, peaceful Palestinian state. That this has not happened is, in Carter's view, primarily due to the legacy of late Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, not the fault of poor Palestinian decision-making or the Palestinian embrace of terrorism. The intransigence of Begin and his successors, Carter believes, was compounded by a failure of U.S. political leaders to pressure the Israeli government to correct its policy. Washington's failure to lead, he believes, is heavily due to the failure of American supporters of Israel to criticize the Jewish state.

Carter believes that if the U.S. government reduces or stops its support for Israel, then the Jewish state will be weakened and become more malleable in negotiations. His underlying logic is based upon an imperial rationality that assumes Washington to have the answer to myriad issues besetting Middle Eastern societies. This plays into the notion in Arab societies that the cause of their problems lies with Western powers and other outsiders. Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid will feed that belief.

In the book, Carter does not mention the counterproductive judgments made by Palestinian leaders or their embrace of terrorism over the last many years. While nineteenth- and twentieth-century European, Ottoman, Arab, and Zionist leaders all sought at various times to stifle Palestinian self-determination, the claim that the establishment of a Palestinian state rests only in the hands of Jerusalem and Washington is rubbish. By adopting so completely the Palestinian historical narrative, Carter may hamper diplomatic efforts enshrined in the "Road Map" and elsewhere that attempt to compel the Palestinian leadership to accept accountability for its actions. In pursuing this path, Carter violates the advice he gave eighty Palestinian business, religious, and political leaders on March 16, 1983, when, speaking to a gathering at the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, he said, "Unless you take your own destiny into your own hands and stop relying on others," you will not have a state.[7]

Carter's distrust of the U.S. Jewish community and other supporters of Israel runs deep. According to former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, "Carter's feelings on Israel were always ambivalent. On the one hand, he felt Israel was being intransigent; on the other, he genuinely had an attachment to the country as the ‘land of the Bible.'"[8]

In a 1991 research interview with Carter for my book Heroic Diplomacy: Sadat, Kissinger, Carter, Begin and the Quest for Arab-Israeli Peace,[9] Carter recollected that:

[Vice president] Fritz Mondale was much more deeply immersed in the Jewish organization leadership than I was. That was an alien world to me. They [American Jews] didn't support me during the presidential campaign [that] had been predicated greatly upon Jewish money ... Almost all of them were supportive of Scoop Jackson—Scoop Jackson was their spokesman … their hero. So I was looked upon as an alien challenger to their own candidate. You know, I don't mean unanimously but ... overwhelmingly. So I didn't feel obligated to them or to labor unions and so forth. Fritz … was committed to Israel … It was an act just like breathing to him—it wasn't like breathing to me. So I was willing to break the shell more than he was.[10]

The gap between many American Jews and Carter grew during his presidency as Carter increased pressure on Jerusalem. In the 1980 general election, Carter received a lower proportion of Jewish votes than any Democratic presidential candidate since 1920.

From: My Problem with Jimmy Carter's Book
by Kenneth W. Stein
Middle East Quarterly
Spring 2007

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Linda Young of The Y Files makes some additional pertinent points (the second paragraph is a deadpan satirical hit):

I don't think Carter is an anti-Semite. However, I think that his book is a very skewed treatment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that some of his rhetoric is disturbing -- such as a passage that draws a parallel between the Pharisees of the New Testament and modern-day Israeli authorities. And I agree with historian Deborah Lipstadt's charge that in defending his book, "Carter has repeatedly fallen back -- possibly unconsciously -- on traditional anti-Semitic canards"; for instance, he has equated criticism from Jewish commentators who write for mainstream publications such as The New Yorker or The New York Times with criticism from "Jewish organizations."

Incidentally, social liberals might be startled to learn that in the book, Carter chronicles the fact that on a trip to Israel in the 1970s he remonstrated with then-Prime Minister Golda Meir for the overly secular nature of the Labor government. He even took it upon him to lecture Meir about the fact that in the Bible, "a common historical pattern was that Israel was punished whenever the leaders turned away from devout worship of God." (Paging Pat Robertson?) But I digress.

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