A whirlwind of controversy has surrounded President Jimmy Carter's best-selling book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.
I stumbled into this controversy after sending an op-ed by Carter to a friend of mine. They responded with a criticism of Carter's book and, much to my surprise, implied that it was anti-Semitic, going on to suggest that Carter's evangelical Christianity had led him to the sorts of criticisms he offered. By the way, my friend had not read the book.
To put it mildly, I was very surprised by these comments, but I recognized them to be part of the larger debate. Carter is probably the highest-ranking present or former U.S. official who has been willing to challenge the prevailing dogma on the Israeli/Palestinian dilemma. Carter cuts through the spin and offers two major insights:
1. There has been an Israeli occupation of Palestinian land since June 1967, and this is at the root of the crisis.
2. Israeli obstinacy has been the main blockage to a lasting peace. Carter offers deep criticisms of those Palestinians who have engaged in terrorist assaults against Israeli civilians, as well as specific criticisms of certain Arab governments, but he does not back away from the root of the problem. It is for this reason that Carter is being vilified by many in the U.S. media and political establishment.
Despite the comments from my friend, it has been difficult for most commentators to criticize Carter — the architect of the Egyptian/Israeli peace agreement — as being anti-Semitic. Rather, there has been an interesting attempt to discredit the book for alleged factual inaccuracies and for being too pro-Palestinian. An organized effort is under way to make it appear that Carter is being deserted by colleagues at the Carter Center, but when one digs through the hype, it turns out that this is not what is transpiring at all.
It is, rather, a very well-choreographed effort to attempt to isolate and punish a prominent leader for daring to question the wisdom of U.S. policy in the Middle East, and, further, for daring to argue that the Palestinians are the victims of a heinous system that is destroying their ability to sustain themselves as a sovereign nation. The fact that Carter parallels the Israeli occupation with the system of apartheid that was practiced against the Black majority in South Africa (1948-1994) has further inflamed uncritical supporters of Israel, though Carter aptly demonstrates that the comparison is more than reasonable.
Back to my friend. What is interesting in my friend's comments is that the occupation was entirely missed. The note that was sent to me focused almost entirely on Palestinian military attacks against Israelis (some against combatants, some against non-combatants), rather than looking at a few interesting points:
• The state of Israel was established on land that was already occupied by an existing population — Arabs. This was done over the objection of the Arabs living there and the Arab countries in the region.
• Following the June 1967 war, the United Nations called upon Israel to withdraw from all of the occupied territories. The Israelis have never complied with these U.N. resolutions.
• The U.S. government has been so concerned about certain United Nations resolutions over time that it has been willing to take the United States to war, e.g., the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq (when Iraq invaded and occupied Kuwait), and in 2003 when the United States illegally invaded Iraq under the pretext of stopping Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction (which were in violation of UN resolutions). Yet, the failure of Israel to comply with UN resolutions has never resulted in the suggestion of the use of military force by the United States to remove them.
• It is internationally recognized that a people have the right to carry out resistance against illegal occupations.
My friend, for whatever reason, chose to ignore each of these points and has subsequently not replied to my comments.
Carter has done a great service by forcing a discussion of the Israeli/ Palestinian crisis onto the people of the United States. The fact that his book is a best seller points to the reality that many people here are looking for new approaches and new answers, recognizing that current U.S. and Israeli policy is bankrupt.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a long-time international and labor activist and writer. He is the former president of TransAfrica Forum.