Moving the Middle
Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid
by Jimmy Carter
Simon & Schuster, 2006.
264 pages; $27, hardcover
Despite anything you may have read to the contrary, former President Jimmy Carter’s latest book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, continues his own and the 20th-century tradition of Christian support for Israel. (Carter, for those who have forgotten, brokered the 1978 Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt, under which Egypt essentially agreed for the first time to recognize Israel.)
But Carter’s support for the state of Israel is not uncritical, and it’s his criticisms that have generated a storm of protest, especially his use of the word “apartheid” to characterize Israeli policies toward the Palestinian people. His contention that “political, economic, and religious forces in the United States” amount to a powerful pro-Israel lobby also drew fire from the press and from various organizations: “animus toward Israel and the Jewish people,” said the New England paper The Jewish Advocate, and the American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League characterized the book as “a crude polemic that compromises any pretense to objectivity and fairness” and a “one-sided rant… against the Jewish people.”
The questions before this reviewer, then, were: Is Carter’s book, in a reversal of the author’s earlier positions, anti-Israel? Is it anti-Semitic? Is it of any use to Palestinians and Palestinian solidarity movements internationally? The answers are, respectively, no, no, and maybe.
it is hardly anti-Israel. In page after page, Carter repeatedly and unquestioningly supports the existence of Israel as a Jewish state in the Middle East — a Jewish state in the Middle East — a Jewish state, indeed, occupying the lion’s share of the area that was once Palestine; a Jewish state in which Jews the world over have the “right of return,” no matter how distant their connection is to the land to which they may now “return,” and Palestinians do not. In Carter’s prescription for peace in Israel/Palestine, the first element is that “the security of Israel must be guaranteed.”
He goes on, however, to declare that “Israel’s continued control and colonization of Palestinian lands have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement” in the area. He compares the creation of the state of Israel to the colonization by Europeans of Native Americans lands and the present relation of Israelis and Palestinians to apartheid. Those are the ideas that have brought down on the book the accusations that it is anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.
In the United States, we have seen criticisms of governmental policies decried as “anti-American” for centuries. But the government — here or in Israel — is not the nation, and to oppose the policies of the one is in no way to be hostile to the other. Even less are the policies of the state of Israel the will of Jewish people worldwide. Many Jews in Israel, the United States (the present writer among them), and elsewhere are among the sharpest critics of those policies, and many have made the comparisons to the colonization of the Americas and to apartheid.
In fact, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid says little or nothing new. Carter’s full prescription for peace includes the restoration of the pre-1967 border and the creation of a genuinely independent and autonomous Palestinian state. As he points out repeatedly, these conditions have long since been ordered by U.N. resolutions and agreed to by many accords and treaties.
Carter’s book is neither anti-Israel nor anti-Semitic, but does it further the struggle for justice for Palestinians and a lasting peace? Its title may be the first time a person with as long a history of support for Israel as Carter’s has used the word “apartheid” in that context. To the extent that it is, it may add a veneer of respectability to the charges it makes, and Palestinian solidarity activists may well want to recommend it — or quote from it — to people who have been convinced by pro-Israel propaganda that Israel’s policies are necessary or justified. If the book does nothing else, it moves many of the arguments against those policies squarely to the middle of the road.