Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Belated Book Review: Palestine Peace Not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter, Simon & Schuster, 2006

President Jimmy Carter's "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid" caused a national furor when it appeared in 2006. David A. Harris of the American Jewish Committe called the book "outlandishly titled." Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League said, "The title is to de-legitimize Israel, because if Israel is like South Africa, it doesn't really deserve to be a democratic state."

Foxman misconstrues the title. The author makes clear that his critique is not with Israel per se, but with Israel's non-democratic policies in the occupied territories: "It became increasingly clear that there were two Israels. One encompassed the ancient culture and moral values of the Jewish people... The other existed within the occupied Palestinian territories, with policies shaped by a refusal to acknowledge and respect the basic human rights of the citizens." If Carter's aim is to de-legitimize Israel, one must assume that that is the aim of prominent Israelis who have used the term apartheid in describing a situation in which one group, by virtue of ethnicity and nationality, enjoys rights and privileges that the other does not.

Israelis seem more willing to openly debate relations with the Palestinians–and the concept of apartheid as it applies to these relations–than do American Jewish leaders. Author A.B. Yehoshua said, "I expected American Jews, who were raised on democracy, to know very well that the moment there are settlements here, it will eventually lead to an apartheid state." B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center For Human Rights In The Occupied Territories (see link on this page), states in its web site, "Israel has established in the Occupied Territories a separation cum discrimination regime, in which it maintains two systems of laws, and a person's rights are based on his or her national origin. This regime...brings to mind...the Apartheid regime in South Africa."

Peace activist Yossi Sarid wrote in Haaretz of the roadblocks, inspections, licenses, permits, arbitrary seizure of land, privileges in water use and use of cheap, hard labor, concluding, "...what acts like apartheid, is run like apartheid, and harasses like apartheid, is not a duck–it is apartheid."  A Haaretz editorial finds Carter's use of the term appropriate: "The interim political situation in the territories has crystallized into a kind of apartheid that has been ongoing for 40 years."  Former Israeli attorney general Michael Ben-Yair stated in Haaretz, "In effect, we established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories immediately following their capture. That oppressive regime exists to this day."

Lest one think that these are only voices from the left, even Prime Minister Ehud Olmert employed terms that would be scandalous if they were uttered by an American politician. According to ABC News, "Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said...that creation of a Palestinian state is a vital Israeli interest, and that failure to reach a peace agreement could plunge Israel into a South African-style apartheid struggle. Such a scenario, he said, would mean 'the state of Israel is finished.' "

If some are tempted to discount the Palestinians cited by Carter as purveyors of propaganda, they should heed the Israeli individuals and institutions he cites. Again, according to B'Tselem, "In addition to punitive demolitions, Israel had razed even more Palestinian homes in 'clearing' operations, plus houses that Israel claimed were build without a permit. All this destruction was on Palestinian land."

Former deputy mayor of Jerusalem Meron Benvenisti enumerated to Carter the ways that Israelis acquired Palestinian lands, including purchase, seizure "for security purposes," claiming state control of former Jordanian-held land, "taking" under carefully selected Arabic customs or ancient laws, and "claiming as state land all that was not cultivated or specifically registered as owned by a Palestinian family." (In this regard, one should read "West Bank Sites on Private Land, Data Shows," New York Times, March 14, 2007. According to Peace Now, "32.4 percent of property held by Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank is private" and "...the data shows a pattern of illegal seizure of private land...")

The expropriation of land is relevant when considering the wall being built to separate the West Bank from Israel. Objections to the barrier come from the fact that it intrudes "deeply into the West Bank to encompass Israeli settlement blocs and large areas of other Palestinian land." The International Court of Justice, Carter reminds us, based its negative ruling on the wall on the illegality of an occupying power "transferring any parts of its civilian population into territories seized by military force."

Chiding Palestinians for "following policies of confrontation and inflexibility," Carter states that they have "alienated many moderate leaders in Israel and America and have not gained any of their territory or other basic rights." There are times, though, when he shows a lack of even-handedness. Regarding the July 2000 negotiations between Clinton, Barak and Arafat at Wye Plantation, Maryland, Carter states, "There was no possibility that any Palestinian leader can accept such terms and survive..." While Arafat had the right to reject Israel's opening bid, his failure to make a counter-offer showed a lack of seriousness about the negotiations. Carter concludes the book by stating, "Peace will come to Israel and the Middle East only when the Israeli government is willing to comply with international law, with the Roadmap for Peace... All Arab neighbors must pledge to honor Israel's right to live in peace under these conditions." Fair enough–but this passage does not mention the specific, crucial fact that Hamas rules Gaza while denying the basic acceptance of Israel that was agreed upon by the Palestinian Authority.

Still, Carter provides a valuable service by encouraging Americans to debate issues in the same terms employed by many Israelis, including whether Israel's policies in the territories resemble apartheid. In this necessary and courageous book, he offers an honest examination of the ongoing violation of a nation's human rights by an occupying power–a reality that must be acknowledged and overcome if the peace process is to have any chance of success.

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