Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Reviewing ‘Palestine Peace Not Apartheid’ by Jimmy Carter

Whatever one thinks about Jimmy Carter’s prescription for remedying the situation in Palestine there is no doubting his commitment to working for peace in the Middle East.

A major part of his latest book is a survey of the settlement and peace processes, with a chronology of events going back thousands of years and a more specific account of developments from the UN partition in the late 1940s up to the present day.

The partitioning of the land and subsequent reoccupations, with further accords has made for a complex picture but Jimmy Carter has marshaled his facts clearly. This is a useful book for readers wanting to get a clearer understanding of the situation. The inclusion of maps and appendices that record the various UN resolutions and peace treaties also provide a good handle on the subject.

Carter weaves his own story into the account from the time of his first visit to the Holy Land in 1973, through his Presidential years from 1977-1981 and his important post-Presidential involvement especially through the Carter Centre which has monitored elections in the country and made visits for peace. His story is laced with fascinating anecdotes from his encounters with the key players in the region. Readers get a glimpse of the many behind the scenes conversations, as when Carter confronts former Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin about the breaking of his earlier promises.

Writing about a country that has experienced long term conflict and submitting a blueprint for peace where prejudices are so ingrained, it was inevitable that Carter’s solution was bound to be controversial. To discount this book because one doesn’t agree with the author’s prescription is to have missed the point. The book and his recommendations come out of long conversations over many years with leaders and ordinary citizens on both sides of the conflict. Carter has modeled the genuine understanding and commitment to sustained listening which is a prerequisite for any process that might bring peace.

As Jimmy Carter tells his story one can detect his early bias toward Israel that has come from a lifetime of nurture within the evangelical Christian ethos of the USA. Later, as he listens to Palestinians and discovers the way that the divided settlements, the restrictions on travel, the detainment without trial and imprisonments have all contributed to robbing them of their basic human rights, one can see Carter’s views changing. He denounces the ‘imprisonment wall’ which the Israelis have built, leading him to declare, perhaps emotively the presence of ‘apartheid’ separating Muslim and Christian citizens of the occupied territories. Carter is also critical of the reaction by some Palestinians in honoring suicide bombers as martyrs and considering the killing of Israelis as victories.

The outcome is a fair-handed and prophetic book that has challenges for Israeli and Palestinian leaders and important implications for leaders of the surrounding Arab states. Carter is scathing of the current US leadership which has condoned illegal Israeli activities and rarely questioned or condemned Israeli government decisions that have contravened former agreements.

This 21st book written by the 39th President of the United State of America is focused towards one of Carter’s major goals of his life and his retirement—working to ensure a lasting peace for Israelis and others in the Middle East.

True to form, this book is a straight forward account with no frills, diversions or padding. It examines the root causes of the continuing conflict and spells out a clear path to permanent peace and justice in the Holy Land. As a statesman who has worked for peace for many decades, it is significant that this is a hopeful book that builds on the positive factors that are conducive towards establishing a peaceful and just settlement.

Geoff Pound

Details: Jimmy Carter, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the United Arab Emirates at the cost of Dh 108.00.

Image: Front cover.