Retirement is a great thing, at least if you have the good health and boundless energy of our former President, Jimmy Carter. Since his forcible retirement by the 1980 election, he has written 20 books, become the world's certifier of elections, organized a yearly homebuilding project for the poor in various countries including the U.S., and run the Carter Center, an organization for increasing human rights and decreasing human suffering throughout the world. For a politician, one of the benefits of retirement is that, for the first time, you can actually tell the truth in public (if you don't have a spouse with political ambitions). And Carter has done just that. His previous book, Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis, showed how politicized religion was having a corrosive effect on both religion and politics in America. I guess that, after that book, he felt that taking on the political evangelicals didn't provide a hot enough frying pan, so he has now jumped into the fire of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. His latest book, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, is probably the best general introduction to the politics, people, and details of a problem that has dominated America's interaction with the whole Middle East. If you feel unsure of what is the truth about the confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians, this book has major advantages. The first is that Jimmy Carter has the welfare of both parties at heart. That alone almost puts it in a class by itself. Secondly, Carter has talked and interacted with all the major players in the dispute over many years as has almost no other writer on the topic. For example, during the negotiations leading up to the Camp David Accords in 1978, Begin, the Israeli Prime Minister, and Sadat, the President of Egypt, had such totally different and deeply-held views that they just could not directly interact in any useful way. During many long days Carter had to talk to, cajole, and argue with each of them separately in order to gradually bring them to a point where they could agree on a single document.
One cannot review this book without first commenting on the title. The title is definitely not intended to suggest that Israel is presently an apartheid state. Rather, its aim is to state that the Israelis have only two options - either they will live in peace with their Palestinian neighbors in their internationally-recognized borders or they will live in an apartheid state, forever on the verge of war. In general, the book is a deeply-felt warning, in the manner of Jeremiah, by a true friend of both Jews and Arabs, that the present path will lead only to the physical destruction of Palestinian society and the moral destruction of Jews everywhere. I have used the phrase "internationally-recognized borders" in spite of the fact that there has been a long campaign in the U.S. to obscure the fact that there are such things. One need only look at two parts of UN Resolution 242, signed by all members of the Security Council, including the U.S.:
Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security, . . .to see that those borders are just the borders before the 1967 war. In fact, in the Camp David Accords, ratified by the Knesset, Israel agreed to reach an accord with the Palestinians based upon those UN Resolutions. This is all brought out very clearly in the book.
. . . Affirms that the fulfillment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include the application of both the following principles: (1) Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict; . . . (p.217)
Carter can talk first-hand about his conversations with Israeli leaders. For example, during his 1973 visit, ". . . the prevailing attitude among the nation's leaders was that the occupied lands should be kept only until they could be traded for a secure peace with the Arabs." (p.23) "There were only about 1,500 Jewish settlers in the occupied territories at that time, and our natural presumption was that Israel would dismantle the unwanted settlements to comply with international law . . ."(p.27) Unfortunately, in the years that followed, ". . . large numbers of Christian and Muslim Arabs were either displaced from their homes or put under military rule as more and more of their territory was occupied and retained. This forced relocation intensified the fear, hatred, and alienation on both sides and made more difficult any reconciliation." (p.110) In his recent trip to Gaza and the West Bank, as an observer of the Palestinian elections, Carter was appalled at the conditions under which the people there are living. "In order to perpetuate the occupation, Israeli forces have deprived their unwilling subjects of basic human rights. No objective person could personally observe existing conditions in the West Bank and dispute these statements."(p.208)
It is very uncommon for a world leader, who has been in the thick of any controversial political issue to present such a detailed and honest account of it. For anyone interested in a brief but knowledgeable description of the issues surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and the present situation in the Palestinian occupied territories, Carter's book would be hard to match.
Claude Garrod is an Emeritus Professor of Physics at UCD and author of the action-packed best-seller, Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics, published by Oxford University Press.