Posted on January 22, 2007 in Washington Watch

Former US president Jimmy Carter has written a little book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – a little book that has created a big storm.

In describing his effort, Carter noted that he set out to accomplish two major objectives: to collect his personal reminiscences and observations based on his early years as a peace negotiator and later as an observer of three Palestinian elections and also to provoke a debate within the US about the issues that must be addressed for there to be a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid has, it appears, been somewhat successful in accomplishing these goals.

Carter tells his stories well, presenting them in a delightfully conversational manner. And it has provoked a debate, though not always as thoughtful and serious as Carter might have hoped for or as serious as the topic deserves.

Even before Palestine was released there was a hue and cry from opponents whose objections have focused on two issues:

  • The title, which describes the options facing Israel as it pursues its current policies.

  • The observation which Carter also makes at the very end of the book, where he notes that while “there are constant and vehement political and media debates in Israel concerning its policies in the West Bank but because of powerful political, economic, and religious forces in the US, Israeli government decisions are rarely questioned or condemned, voices from [occupied] Jerusalem dominate our media and most American citizens are unaware of circumstances in the occupied territories.”

On both counts, the former president’s observations are well-founded coming out of his three decade-long experience in dealing with the Israeli-Palestine conflict.


Knowing the typology of the West Bank and seeing, first hand, the impact of the wall on Palestinian daily life, Carter makes clear that if Israel persists with its current plan, the result will be akin to establishing a non-viable Palestinian Bantustan or worse. It will be like a reservation in which Palestinians are locked into poverty, despair and anger, denied the freedom to grow their economy and even travel easily from place to place.

This is what which Carter aptly refers to as apartheid.

If Carter’s depiction of the logical end of Israel’s policies has irked his critics, what caused outrage, is his observation that Israel’s policies cannot be freely debated in the US. And here, and in the way they have vented their anger, Carter’s critics have only served to make his point.

Even before the book appeared, political leaders were pressed to distance themselves from the former president. Major pro-Israeli groups and leaders issued denunciations using extreme and shameful rhetoric in an effort to ridicule and demean Carter.

This, of course, was not intended as part of a debate, but rather as a heavy handed effort to silence discussion of the book and isolate Carter from the mainstream of political discourse.

What emerges from all of this is the sad and inescapable reality that just as Israel demands peace on its terms, defining its non-negotiable “red-lines” and declaring everything else off-limits, it appears that its supporters follow suit, only tolerating political discussion of the conflict on terms they deem acceptable.

As a result, frustration and polarisation grow both in the Middle East and here in the US, as well.

Carter’s effort to change this dynamic was a good one. Sales are brisk, but given the refusal of the policy elites to discuss its central observations, the reasoned debate he sought to create will not, it appears, take place any time soon.

comments powered by Disqus