Jimmy Carter, Simon & Schuster (2009)
In the morning, I’m mailing my copy of Carter’s book to President Obama, not because I think he’ll pay attention, but to shame him for not seeking former President Carter’s advice on the Middle East. There’s no other government official (past or present) that has as much insight and wisdom about the history of the Middle East conflict and the positions of each of the key players than President Jimmy Carter.
Carter’s firsthand account of the historical facts is an easy read, but a little discouraging too. Fundamentally, nothing much has changed in the past 35 years except the super-charged settlement growth in the West Bank and the window is rapidly closing on the two-state solution.
No one can fault President Carter for playing favorites and taking sides, although I’m sure they will. He presents the unvarnished facts along with his personal observations about the credibility and motivations of the key participants.
In his role with The Carter Center, he met with Hamas officials and presented specific things he hoped they would consider (chapter 10). He writes:
(a) Hamas agreed to accept any peace agreement negotiated between the leaders of the PLO and Israel provided it is subsequently approved by Palestinians in a referendum or by a democratically elected government.
(b) Hamas agreed to a cease-fire relating just to Gaza, with final terms arranged by Omar Suleiman in Egypt. Although Israel neither denied nor confirmed any specific text, we were informed by Egypt and Hamas that the cease-fire, initiated on June , would continue for six months under Egyptian auspices and that crossing points would be opened initially to allow 30% more goods to enter Gaza and full commerce within 13 days. Egypt would also assist in realizing the Hamas desire to expand the cease-fire over time to include the West Bank. There were numerous violations on both sides, but infractions decreased as the weeks passed. The Qassam rockets falling on Sderot ceased, Israeli military attacks on Gaza stopped, and some vital supplies of food and fuel were eventually permitted to enter Gaza. During the same time, however, Israeli incursions into the West Bank substantially escalated.
(c) After considering our prisoner proposal extensively, Mashal informed me that their own list of 450 was a compilation of many negotiated agreements with Palestinian families and they could not violate these individual promises. They preferred that Omar Suleiman continue the discussions based on their list of names. However, we were pleased that a letter from Corporal Shalit was sent to our Ramallah office for delivery to his parents.
(d) Included in the Gaza cease-fire was a promise by Israel to permit the delivery of more supplies, and in August the Egyptians let some college students and others depart through the Rafah gate. This still left several hundred Palestinian students either without exit visas or with no assurance from Israel that they could return to their homes after studying abroad.
(e) Hamas promised to give careful consideration to a technocratic (nonpartisan) interim Palestinian government while elections could be held but insisted that the primary security force in Gaza remain under Hamas control.
(f) Hamas rejected meeting with Israel’s deputy prime minister, Eli, Yishai, because this might indicate an official recognition of the Israeli government.
Carter’s visit with Hamas leaders — and their frank discussions — belies the rhetoric coming from the US Congress and Obama’s Administration of the evil terrorists using children as human shields and seeking the destruction of the state of Israel. Carter continues:
Although there are an increasing number of dissenters, most international leaders have demanded that Hamas meet three criteria before being given legal status: recognize Israel, accept all previously negotiated agreements, and forego violence.
The Hamas response is that (a) it will acknowledge Israel’s right to live in peace within its pre-1967 borders, but diplomatic recognition can be mutual only between Israel and a sovereign Palestinian state; (b) previous agreements are not acceptable that are based on continuing Israeli occupation of Palestine (as was Oslo); and (c) it will agree to a long-term cease-fire (as much as 50 years) between Israel and an adjacent Palestinian state but not officially renounce its right to resist until Israel is no longer occupying Palestine.
The New York Times review in 2009 called Carter’s book “a short op-ed disguised as a book.” I disagree.
Reading between the lines, Carter’s motivation in writing the book appears to be a plea to current leaders (as of 2009 when the book was published) to take the bull by the horns and just do it. Everyone knows what key ingredients are necessary to bring peace, they’ve been known for decades and Carter spells them out.
With the passage of five years since the book was released, it’s clear that President Obama hasn’t put any muscle into resolving the conflict. It’s been the same ol’, same ol’ and Netanyahu knows he can count on Obama’s acquiescence, most recently to the massacre of over 2,000 Palestinians in Gaza during Israel’s assault that lasted 51 days (July-August 2014).
A lifetime spent trying to bring peace and justice to the Middle East. The least Obama could do is invite Carter to the White House and learn a thing or two.