Monday, February 05, 2007

Jimmy Carter's Book

From the Middle East Quarterly Spring 2007, by Kenneth W. Stein [one of two dozen directors of the Carter center who have resigned in protest over Carter's book]...

... Carter uses his credibility as a former president, Nobel laureate, and key player in the September 1978 Camp David accords and the Egypt-Israel peace treaty to unfold his set of truths and often to criticize U.S. policy.

...But Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid .... Carter's twenty-first book deficient. He does what no non-fiction author should ever do: He allows ideology or opinion to get in the way of facts.

... the narrative aims its attack toward Israel, Israeli politicians, and Israel's supporters. It contains egregious errors of both commission and omission. To suit his desired ends, he manipulates information, redefines facts, and exaggerates conclusions. Falsehoods, when repeated and backed by the prestige of Carter's credentials, can comprise an erroneous baseline for shaping and reinforcing attitudes and policymaking. Rather than bring peace, they can further fuel hostilities, encourage retrenchment, and hamper peacemaking.

I first met Carter at a 1982 reception welcoming him to Emory University. He invited me to serve as the Carter Center's first permanent executive director, a position I held between 1983 and 1986, and as the center's Middle East fellow, an association I continued until December 2006 when I resigned that post over both the inaccuracies in Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid and its message, which contradicts the Carter Center's founding purposes.

...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.

...While Carter lauds Begin for his intelligence...his animus toward the late Israeli leader is limitless. This became evident when we were writing The Blood of Abraham, and Carter insisted on asserting that Begin "wanted to expand Israeli borders to both sides of the Jordan River." In fact, this is anachronistic. True, this had been Begin's view prior to Israel's independence in 1948, but it was not, as Carter implied, Begin's position after his twenty-nine years in the Knesset (parliament) or during his premiership. During chapter editing, I brought the error to Carter's attention. He declined to correct it.

During the difficult negotiations between Egypt and Israel, Carter and his advisers tried to get Sadat to engage in a collusive scheme: They would encourage Sadat to make "deliberately exaggerated" demands. The White House would then intervene to "compel" Cairo to scale back its demands in exchange for Israeli concessions. Then-national security advisor Brzezinski explained that Washington would "apply maximum leverage on Israel to accommodate," by keeping the West Bank's political future on the table for future negotiations. That Carter risked possible Israeli-Egyptian peace in an effort to extract greater concessions from Begin underscores the tension in their relationship.

In 1983, the first time Begin met Carter after both had left office, Begin was icy toward the ex-president. Carter surmised that he may have "aggravated him [Begin] more than usual." Begin's personal secretary later said Begin was angry with what he had learned in the books by Brzezinski and National Security Council staff member William B. Quandt about Carter's behind-the-scenes maneuvering. This anger grew after he read the claim in The Blood of Abraham regarding his alleged desire to expand Israeli borders across the Jordan River. On our 1987 trip to Israel, Begin refused to see Carter, citing health reasons, but Begin's personal secretary told me it was because of the way Carter had treated Begin.

...Carter has come to scorn those who disagree with him. On his recent book tour promoting Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, whenever an interviewer disagreed with a premise or challenged Carter's views, he would respond, "It is obvious you did not read my book." This is Carter's way of chiding the interviewer for not accepting his wisdom. When Carter says, "Everything in the book is accurate; it is correct," he seeks acknowledgment that he possesses a privileged understanding of the conflict's fundamental truths and should, therefore, be accepted as someone qualified to apportion blame.

...But Carter is often wrong. Throughout Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, he allows his premises to supplant the facts. His book contains no footnotes, citations, or sources. It contains an appendix and a series of maps, some of which he seems to have mislabeled and taken from Clinton-era negotiator Dennis Ross' The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace. The maps are reconfigured to support Carter's statement that Israel's best offer in the final months of Clinton's presidency was to divide the West Bank into three non-contiguous areas, thus reinforcing Carter's claim of apartheid. Carter dismissed the allegation that he appropriated the maps, saying that he had never seen Ross's book. If true, Carter ignored the most important and detailed memoir yet published on 1990s-era Arab-Israeli negotiations.

In the book, Carter often uses selective remarks by others to advocate his preferences. He uses the literary device "many believe" or "many say" to avoid tying a statement to himself. While implying that the Israeli government practices apartheid vis-à-vis the Palestinians, Carter refrains from calling Israelis racist but highlights and leaves unanswered the late Syrian president Hafez al-Assad's opinion:
Assad asserted that the Jews of the world ... deny that the Palestinians comprise a coherent people even though they have one national identity, one language, one culture, and one history. Many Arabs consider these distinctions to be a form of racism by which Israelis regard Palestinian Arabs as inferiors who are not worthy of basic human rights, often branding them as terrorists if they resist Israel's encroachments.

Nowhere in The Blood of Abraham did Carter cite such an account of Assad's views. Perhaps Carter had an additional communication with Assad, but the notes I have of our three extensive meetings with Assad in 1983, 1987, and 1990 do not support such statements. Regardless, his new emphasis of Assad's views segues with publication of Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, "that Israelis regard Palestinian Arabs as inferiors." If Carter wanted to tar Israel as racist, this was a clever way of doing it.

...A survey of Carter's speeches and writings over the last quarter century reveals the evolution of his views. He has shifted from annoyance to exasperation, from frustration to anger, and from partial blame upon the Palestinians to their exculpation. In recent years, though, he has moved even further, using invented facts to support his desired conclusion.

Evidence of his slide from would-be mediator to unabashed advocate for the Palestinians appears in his partisan rendition of four U.N. resolutions: U.N. Security Council Resolution 465 (1980); U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 (1948); U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 (1967); and U.N. Security Council Resolution 338 (1973).

Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid is the first Carter book to emphasize UNSCR 465, in which the U.N.:
Determines that all measures taken by Israel to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, or any part thereof, have no legal validity and that Israel's policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants in those territories constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Carter's use of UNSCR 465 is an example of how he uses accurate information but omits part of the story to bolster his presentation. He wants to show Israel to be in violation of international law by being present in the territories. While he cites the unanimous passage of UNSCR 465 to suggest that there was universal condemnation of Israel's position with regard to east Jerusalem, he omits that two days after its passage, he himself disavowed the U.S. assent to the resolution. At the time, he said the resolution was a mistake which resulted from a "failure to communicate" between the State Department and Donald F. McHenry, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Carter also omits the possibility that the vote may have certified for Begin his conviction that Carter could not be trusted. Just two hours before the vote, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance had assured the Israeli ambassador, Ephraim Evron, that all references to Jerusalem would be removed.

Carter is also less than complete in his discussion of U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194. Many Palestinians cite the resolution as an unequivocal endorsement by the international community of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in present-day Israel or be compensated if they choose not to exercise that right. Carter accepts this view and implies its universality. He does not acknowledge the fact that five Arab states—Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syria—voted against the resolution in protest of its implied recognition of Israel.

..... in legitimizing a maximalist reading of Resolution 194, Carter flirts with the de-legitimization of Israel as a Jewish state. Hence, within Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Carter is inconsistent about the right of return, at times suggesting it would apply only to the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem while elsewhere suggesting the right of return would enable Palestinians to return to Israel proper. On his book tour, Carter sidestepped the issue by endorsing the implementation of "all relevant U.N. resolutions."

Whereas Carter had earlier written that "Israel would decide unilaterally how many Palestinians" would be admitted to Israel "or could return to Palestine or receive appropriate compensation as a fulfillment of UN Security Resolution 194," his use of the indefinite article "a" in front of "fulfillment" suggests he may harbor multiple interpretations of Palestinian refugee settlement.

Palestinians are less flexible. By demanding Israeli adherence to Resolution 194, Carter ignores the Arabic-language writings of Palestinian officials who say that the Palestinian leadership will never give up the right of return to what is now Israel. In response to Clinton's proposals to allow Palestinian refugees the right to return only to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinian Authority declared:
Resolution 194, which is the basis for a just settlement of the refugee problem, determines the return of the Palestinian refugees "to their homes" and not "to their homeland" or "to historical Palestine." The essence of the right of return is freedom of choice: The Palestinians must be given the right to choose where they live, and that includes returning to the homes out of which they were driven.
Carter, however, scrubs clean Palestinian intransigence.

UNSCR 242 and 338 remain the resolutions around which diplomats center efforts to negotiate a settlement. In its preamble, UNSCR 242 notes "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war" and, in its operative portion, calls for "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict." Nowhere in the resolution does it stipulate what or where Israel's borders should be, nor does the resolution mandate Israeli withdrawal from all territories taken in the 1967 war. This is not a parsing of an arbitrary phrase; it took five months to negotiate and endorse the intentional ambiguity embodied in the language of the resolution. Carter revises UNSCR 242, though, saying it "confirmed Israel's existence within its 1949 borders as promised in the Camp David Accords and Oslo Agreement" and that it states "Israel must withdraw from occupied territories." Later, he writes that UNSCR 242 "mandates" and "requires" Israeli withdrawal.

This reinterpretation is invention on Carter's part. He first adopted this revision of UNSCR 242 in his December 10, 2002 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech when he referred to "withdrawal from the occupied territories." Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations on March 2, 2006, he used a similar phrase and added the false claim that Begin had agreed to Carter's reinterpretation of UNSCR 242 at Camp David in 1978. In effect, Carter is changing the "Land for Peace" formula into "Land for Negotiations." The idea that negotiations should only occur subsequent to Israeli withdrawal was the position held by the PLO at the height of its terrorist campaign in the 1970s.

UNSCR 338 receives similar treatment. Carter alters its call for "negotiations between the parties"—a formulation that would require recognition of Israel—into a call for international mediation, a position that would embolden continued Hamas and Islamic Jihad rejectionism.

Excusing Terrorism
Among the most troubling aspects of Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid is Carter's apparent willingness to condone the killing of Israelis. He is deliberate with words. When he writes, "It is imperative that the general Arab community and all significant Palestinian groups make it clear that they will end the suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism when international laws and the ultimate goals of the Roadmap for Peace are accepted by Israel," he leaves the impression that it is legitimate to engage in terrorism and suicide bombing against Israelis until Jerusalem accepts his interpretation of international law. In doing so, he ignores the fact that the performance-based formula for advancing Israeli-Palestinian talks, the so-called "Road Map" endorsed by the Quartet in 2003, required immediate cessation of terrorism.

To support Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid's central theme that Israel is intransigent, Carter recasts Hamas as a moderate partner ready to negotiate with Israel. He launders its reputation both with careful word choice and omission. He uses the past tense, for example, to describe Hamas as an "Islamic militant group that opposed recognition of Israel [and] perpetrated acts of violence." Carter adds that he "urged them …to forgo violence." He omits mention that Hamas denies the right of a Jewish state to exist in the Middle East and the group's belief that historical Palestine belongs in its entirety to Muslims. Carter is incorrect when he writes that Hamas has not been responsible for any terrorist acts since August 2004. Hamas on many subsequent occasions claimed responsibility for firing Qassam rockets into Israel and also claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit in June 2006.

Carter also claims that Hamas supports a 2002 Arab summit resolution which advocates a two-state solution, albeit one dependent on the right of return of Palestinian refugees. But Hamas rejects the two-state solution. Carter states that Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, "supports peace talks between Israel and [Palestinian Authority leader] Abbas … [and] accepts the Road Map in its entirety." He does not. Carter adds that Hamas would modify its rejection of Israel if there were a negotiated agreement that the Palestinian people can approve, "an important facet of the Camp David Accords," but the Camp David accords never specified universal Palestinian ratification.

Carter has defended Hamas against charges of intransigence during his Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid book tour. While visiting Tehran on December 8, 2006, Haniyeh said, "We will never recognize the usurper Zionist government and will continue our jihadist movement until Bayt al-Maqdis [Jerusalem] and the Al-Aqsa Mosque are liberated." When asked by a Denver radio host on station KHOW 630 AM six days later about Haniyeh's statement, Carter answered, "No, he didn't. No, he did not do that. I did not hear that."

Carter's resistance to contrary evidence contrasts with the impatience some Palestinians and intellectuals have for Hamas's rejectionism. On June 4, 2006, for example, Palestinian analyst Muhammad Yaghi wrote:
The problem with Hamas' political platform is its rejection of the principle of the two states on the historical land of Palestine ... This position cannot be accepted internationally, and certainly Israel cannot accept it. On the contrary, this position gives the international community the justifications to turn its back to us and gives Israel enough pretexts to refuse withdrawal and continue its attacks and unilateral solutions. Hamas' political platform is political suicide and cannot constitute the basis for any political agreement.

Inventing History
After reading Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, I was troubled by a passage recounting a meeting Carter and I had attended with Assad at his presidential office in March 1990. I revisited my notes and saw discrepancies between them and the story Carter recounts. ....Carter reworded the conversation to suggest that Assad was flexible and the Israelis were not. Assad did not say he would accept a demilitarized zone; to do so would be to sacrifice his sovereignty. Nor did he say he would withdraw deeper from his side of the border. This was not a slip of memory for Carter; Carter received a full set of my notes of the March 1990 trip after its conclusion. These were intentional distortions.

....What Carter stated as his personal opinion in the 1990 press conference, he transmits as fact in 2006 in his book. He puts words in Assad's mouth. Carter invented the substance of this meeting to indicate that Assad was leaning toward flexibility.... These are intentional changes that Carter made for the apparent purpose of misrepresenting Israeli intransigence and Arab state flexibility.

...The best option for peace is perhaps one that was offered thirty years ago when, on March 9, 1977, President Jimmy Carter said "recognized borders have to be mutual … where sovereignty is mutually agreed. Defense lines may or may not conform to those legal borders. There may be extensions of Israeli defense beyond the permanent and recognized borders."Unlike the narrative in Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Carter at that time was accurate, temperate, and practical.

Kenneth W. Stein is professor of contemporary Middle Eastern history and political science and director of the Institute for the Study of Modern Israel at Emory University. He thanks Jonathan Schanzer, Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, and Eran Lehrman for their advice.

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