Book Review: Palestine Peace Not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter, Simon & Schuster, New York (2006)
No American president has probably touched the lives of so many outside in a positive way than Jimmy Carter – the 39th president. For the past three decades, since leaving the White House, he has been a resolute voice for human rights and democracy. It was for such activism in the world arena that the Nobel Committee honored him as the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2002, the only U.S. President to have received the Prize after leaving office. To most of his admirers he genuinely deserved the award, something that cannot be said of President Obama, who earned the award in 2009.
President Carter is very vocal about the Palestine-Israel conflict and believes that the USA has a strong role in any peace effort involving the Middle East. Is America ready to play its historic role for peace-making? Can it be trusted by all the parties to the dispute? President Carter’s book “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid” makes it abundantly clear that America has failed in that task rather miserably. Still, his observation is right. After all, the USA has been Israel’s greatest benefactor since the Jewish state was recognized by President Truman. Had it not been for America’s economic aid and security guarantees, plus the abuse of the veto power inside the UN Security Council, the rogue state would have long been a distant memory, much like the short-lived crusader state in the 12th century.
Most people would have hard time realizing that in spite of such blind (and often criminal) support, rendered by the USA, the official U.S. policy in matters relating to the Palestine-Israel conflict is predicated on a few key UN Security Council resolutions, notably 242 of 1967 and 338 of 1973. In his book, president Carter says, “Approved unanimously and still applicable, their basic premise is that Israel’s acquisition of territory by force is illegal and Israel must withdraw from occupied territories. More specifically, U.S. policy was that Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza were “illegal and obstacles to peace.”” (pp. 38-39)
Israel, however, has always put confiscation of Palestinian land ahead of peace. It was these illegal settlement activities during the Bush Sr. administration that provoked an official White House statement: “The United States has opposed, and will continue to oppose, settlement activity in territories occupied in 1967, which remain an obstacle to peace.” From the State Department, Secretary Baker even added, “I don’t think there is any greater obstacle to peace than settlement activity that continues not only unabated but at an advanced pace.” (pp. 131-2) After George H.W. Bush was no longer in office, a major settlement between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, previously halted because of U.S. threat of cutting aid to Israel, was rapidly completed. (p. 132)
As to America's diplomatic gestures in the Middle East, Carter says that after his presidency ended, there was no sustained American leadership in the Middle East peace process until the Gulf War against Iraq in the spring of 1991, when Secretary Baker made several trips to the region. During Clinton-era there was a 90% growth in the number of settlers in the occupied territories, with the greatest increase during the administration of Prime Minister Ehud Barak. By the end of the year 2000, Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza numbered 225,000. The best offer to the Palestinians – by Clinton, not Barak – had been to withdraw 20% of the settlers, leaving more than 180,000 in 209 settlements, covering about 10% of the occupied land, including land to be “leased” and portions of the Jordan River valley and East Jerusalem. (pp. 150-1)
According to Carter, “The percentage figure is misleading, since it usually includes only the actual footprints of the settlements. There is a zone with a radius of about four hundred meters around each settlement within which Palestinians cannot enter. In addition, there are other large areas that would have been taken or earmarked to be used exclusively by Israel, roadways that connect the settlements to one another and to Jerusalem, and “life arteries” that provide the settlers with water, sewage, electricity, and communications. These range in width from 500 to 4000 meters, and Palestinians cannot use or cross many of these connecting links. This honeycomb of settlements and their interconnecting conduits effectively divide the West Bank into at least two noncontiguous areas and multiple fragments, often uninhabitable or even unreachable, and control of the Jordan River valley denies Palestinians any direct access eastward into Jordan. About 100 military checkpoints completely surround Palestine and block routes going into or between Palestinian communities, combined with an uncountable number of other roads that are permanently closed with larger concrete cubes or mounds of earth and rocks. There was no possibility that any Palestinian leader could accept such terms and survive, but official statements from Washington and Jerusalem were successful in placing the entire onus for the failure on Yasir Arafat.” (pp. 151-2)
A new round of talks was held at Taba in January 2001, during the last few days of Clinton presidency. It was later claimed that the Palestinians rejected a “generous offer” put forward by PM Barak with Israel keeping only 5% of West Bank. Carter says, “The fact is no such offers were ever made.” (p. 152)
In April 2003 a “Roadmap” for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was announced by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on behalf of the US, the UN, Russia and the EU (known as the Quartet). This was before George W. Bush invaded Iraq. Annan stated, “Such a settlement, negotiated between the parties, will result in the emergence of an independent, democratic Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors. The settlement will end the occupation that began in 1967, based on the Madrid Conference terms of reference and the principle of land for peace, UNSC Resolutions 242, 338 and 1397, agreements previously reached by the parties, and the Arab initiative proposed by the Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and endorsed by the Arab Summit in Beirut.” (p. 159)
As we all know, the Palestinians accepted the roadmap in its entirety, but the Israeli government announced 14 caveats and prerequisites, some of which would preclude any final peace talks. According to Carter, “The practical result of all this is that the Roadmap for Peace has become moot, with only two results: Israel has been able to use it as a delaying tactic with an endless series of preconditions that can never be met, while proceeding with plans to implement its unilateral goals.” (p. 160)
In October 2003, seeing no progress with the “Roadmap”, with involvement of the Carter Center, a final draft for a new initiative was concluded, which was later disclosed by Carter in Geneva. A majority of the Israelis and Palestinians approved the Geneva principles, despite strong opposition from some top political leaders. Sharon condemned the Geneva Initiative and there was silence from the White House, but Secretary Powell supported the Initiative and met with key negotiators – Yasser Abed Rabbo and Yossi Beilin. (p. 167) Later George W. Bush, a born-again Christian, mindful of not repeating his father’s “mistakes” (in chiding the Jewish state), had no interest in any peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Taking advantage of diplomatic vacuum left by GW Bush, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon came up with a unilateral decision to encircle Palestinians by constructing a wall that’s at least 3.5 times Israel’s international recognized border. According to Carter, the wall effectively divided Palestinian villages, separating the farmers from their fields, and not just separating Palestinians from Jews but rather Palestinians from Palestinians. (pp. 189-194) He observes, “There has been a determined and remarkably effective effort to isolate settlers from Palestinians, so that a Jewish family can commute from Jerusalem to their highly subsidized home deep in the West Bank on roads from which others are excluded, without ever coming in contact with any facet of Arab life.” (p. 190) In July 2004, the International Court of Justice determined that the wall was illegal and called on Israel to cease construction of the wall, to dismantle what has already been built in areas beyond Israel’s international recognized border, and to compensate Palestinians who have suffered as a result of the wall’s construction. But Israel has ignored the ICJ verdict.
During the Israel-Lebanon conflict of 2006, the Bush administration strongly supported Israel, encouraged their bombardment of Lebanon, and blocked the efforts of France and other nations to impose an immediate ceasefire. According to Carter, during this period of conflict, while world’s attention was in Lebanon, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) killed more than 200 Palestinians, 44 of them children, in Gaza. (p. 200) In September 2006, Prime Minister Olmert authorized construction bids for another 690 homes in the occupied West Bank. He also rejected an offer from Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General, to negotiate an exchange of prisons. (p. 202)
According to Carter, from September 2000 until March 2006 (before the book went for publication), some 3,982 Palestinians and 1,084 Israelis were killed in the second Intifada and these numbers include many children: 708 Palestinians and 123 Israelis (p. 206). President GW Bush shares great responsibility for letting such massacre to continue.
The question of land – who owned what percent before the infamous Partition plan was announced in 1947 – is very important to understand the root cause of the ensuing conflict. Zionist leaders have always claimed that the Partition plan in which the Jews were given a bigger share of the pie was fair. Land records, however, show that Jewish ownership was only 2.5% of the land before Israel declared its independence in 1948. Carter reminds us that in 1880 there were only 30,000 Jews in Palestine, scattered among 600,000 Muslims and Christian Arabs. When Britain conducted a census in Palestine in 1922, there were about 84,000 Jews and 670,000 Arabs, of whom 71,000 were Christians. By 1930, thanks to the British policy of Jewish immigration from Europe to Palestine, their numbers had grown to more than 150,000 (p. 65). By the time the area was partitioned by the UN, these numbers had grown to about 600,000 Jews and 1.3 million Arabs, 10 percent of whom were Christians (p. 58). That is, there were two Palestinians for every Jew, and yet, the Jews were given 56% of the land! It does not require a genius to understand the reasons behind Arab rejection of the unfair plan.
As a result of the war of 1948, more than 710,000 unarmed Palestinians were expelled by the Zionist terrorists from their ancestral land. The return of these refugees and their children and grandchildren, born in Diaspora, now remains a serious bone of contention. Israel is adamant about disallowing return of the Palestinian refugees while it remains open to Jewish immigration from anywhere in the world to the holy land.
Carter reminds us that by 1964 when the PLO was formally organized, there were, according to the UN estimate, 1.3 million Palestinian refugees, with one-fourth in Jordan, about 150,000 each in Lebanon and Syria, and most of others in West Bank and Gaza refugee camps (p. 58). Nor should we forget that when Israel launched pre-emptive strikes on June 5, 1967 and within six days occupied the Golan Heights, Gaza, the Sinai, Jerusalem, and the West Bank another 320,000 Arabs were forced to leave the additional areas in Syria, Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine that were occupied by Israel. A number of UN resolutions were adopted with U.S. support and Israeli approval, reemphasizing the inadmissibility of acquisition of land by force, calling for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories, and urging that the more needy and deserving refugees be repatriated to their former homes (p. 59).
In the popular Jewish-owned western media the Palestinians, and their political leadership, are portrayed as the “bad guys,” who aspire to drive the Jews into the sea and reject the two-state formula. President Carter discloses that in a 1990 meeting the PLO chief Yasir Arafat stated, “The PLO has never advocated the annihilation of Israel. The Zionists started the ‘drive the Jews into the sea’ slogan and attributed it to the PLO. In 1969 we said we wanted to establish a democratic state where Jews, Christians and Muslims can all live together. The Zionists said they do not choose to live with any people other than Jews… We said to the Zionist Jews, all right, if you do not want a secular, democratic state for all of us, then we will take another route. In 1974 I said we are ready to establish our independent state in any part from which Israel will withdraw.” (p. 62)
According to president Carter, PLO Chairman Arafat sent a letter to PM Rabin in September 1993 in which he stated unequivocally that the PLO recognized the right of Israel to exist in peace and security, accepted UN Resolutions 242 and 338, committed itself to a peaceful negotiated resolution of the conflict, renounced the use of terrorism and other acts of violence, affirmed that those articles of the PLO covenant that deny Israel’s right to exist were not any longer valid. Although Israel recognized the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people in the Oslo Peace negotiations, Arafat failed to obtain other specific concessions concerning a timetable for Israel’s withdrawal from occupied territories. (pp. 134-5)
Hamas has been portrayed as a Palestinian resistance group that is totally opposed to peace, and rejecting the so-called two-state formula for co-existence. According to Carter, much in contrast to Israeli claims about Hamas’s intention for a Palestinian state in all the territories, the Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh stated in June of 2006, “We have no problem with a sovereign Palestinian state over all our lands within the 1967 borders, living in calm.” (p. 203)
Well, such shocking revelations may sound unbelievable, but fact remains that Israel has never been serious about letting Palestinians live in an independent state of their own.
In the popular western media, Israel is portrayed as a model state with equal rights for all its citizens. However, facts are much uglier. It remains the last of the apartheid states in our world. During his many trips to Israel, President Carter met with local Palestinians who emphasized that they were deprived of their most basic human rights. They claimed that that any demonstration against Israeli abuses resulted in mass arrests of Palestinians, including children throwing stones, bystanders who were not involved, families of protesters, and those known to make disparaging statements about the occupation. Once incarcerated, they had little hope for a fair trial and often had no access to their families or legal counsel. Most of these cases were tried in military tribunals, but 90% of the inmates were being held in civilian jails. One of the attorneys told, “Here there is one system under civil judges and another under the military. Most of our cases, no matter what the subject might be, fall under the military. They are our accusers, judges, and juries, and they all seem the same to us.” (pp. 118-9)
The apartheid character of the Israeli state is too visible through its persecution and harassment of the Palestinian people. International human rights organizations estimate that since 1967 more than 630,000 Palestinians (about 20%) of the total population) in the occupied territories have been detained at some time by the Israelis. According to President Carter, in addition to time in jail, the pre-trial periods can be quite lengthy. Palestinian detainees can be interrogated under special laws for a total of 180 days and denied lawyer visits for intervals of 90 days. Accused persons are usually in military courts in the West Bank, and incarcerated in prisons inside Israel, in violation of the 4th Geneva Convention. (pp. 196-7)
Access to water, e.g., remains a persistent issue. Each Israeli settler uses five times as much water as a Palestinian neighbor, who must pay four times as much per gallon. There are Israeli swimming pools adjacent to Palestinian villages where drinking water had to be hauled in on tanker trucks and dispensed by the bucketful. Most of the hilltop settlements are on small areas of land, so untreated sewage is discharged into the surrounding fields and villages (p. 121).
Only in an apartheid state can one expect to see such outright discrimination and harassment of a people! Israeli state policy forces exodus upon the Palestinian people.
Consider also the disproportionate privilege enjoyed by the settler Jews in the Gaza Strip before June 2004 when Israel’s cabinet approved a plan for disengagement from the territory. Living among 1.3 million Palestinians, the 8,000 Israeli settlers were controlling 40% of the arable land and more than one-half the water resources, and 12,000 troops were required to defend their presence. (p. 168) According to Carter, the Palestinian people had little freedom of movement or independent activity. (p. 170)
In 1948 there were 90,000 natives in Gaza. The population more than tripled by 1967, and there are now more than 1.4 million – 3,700 people living per sq. km, making it one of the most densely populated places in our planet. Israel does not allow air and sea transportation from Gaza. Carter observed that fishermen were not allowed to leave the harbor, workers were prevented form going to outside jobs, the import or export of food and other goods was severely restricted and often cut off completely and the police, teachers, nurses, and social workers were deprived of salaries. Per capita income decreased 40% during 2004-06, and poverty rate reached 70% (pp. 175-6). This was the situation before reinvasion of Gaza in July 2006 and its latest demolition in December 2008 – January 2009 by the IDF (during the last days of Bush administration).
A reading of Carter’s book reveals that the US government, far from being an honest peace-broker, has actually aided in strengthening Israel’s apartheid character. As to the reality of settlements in the West Bank, Carter observes, “It is obvious that the Palestinians will be left with no territory to establish a viable state, but completely enclosed within the barrier and the occupied Jordan River valley. The Palestinians will have a future impossible for them or any responsible portion of the international community to accept, and as Israel’s permanent status will be increasingly troubled and uncertain as deprived people fight oppression and the relative number of Jewish citizens decreases demographically (compare to Arabs) both within Israel and Palestine.” (p. 196)
There is no denying that the unwavering support of the US government has emboldened the Israeli leaders to believe that they are above the international law and have the right to confiscate and colonize Palestinian land, and sustain subjugation and persecution of increasingly hopeless and aggravated Palestinians. The latter see that suicidal activities are ways to shorten their pathetic condition. This madness on both sides must come to an end.
Carter concludes, “Peace will come to Israel and the Middle East only when the Israeli government is willing to comply with international law… It will be a tragedy – for the Israelis, the Palestinians, and the world – if peace is rejected and a system of oppression, apartheid, and sustained violence is permitted to prevail.” (p. 216) He is absolutely right.
Palestine Peace Not Apartheid is a courageous work of a man who is sincere about finding peace in one of the most troubled areas of our world. President Carter has visited the Occupied Territories many times and has firsthand knowledge about America’s failed and half-hearted diplomatic initiatives in the Middle East. I strongly recommend this book to anyone serious about understanding the root of the Palestine-Israel conflict and the fallacy of the American ‘balanced’ diplomacy in the Middle East.