Review of Palestine Peace Not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter, New York: Simon and Shuster, 2006, pp. 265+xvii.

Abstract: Former US president Jimmy Carter’s historical narrative of the various efforts he has been involved in to bring peace to Palestine is a fascinating insight into the politics behind the would-be peacemakers. Carter shows great courage in describing how pro-Israeli bias within the current American administration is the real obstacle to peace in the Middle East; a bias which gives the green light to a system of oppression and apartheid.

Jimmy Carter, the former president of the United States and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his peace efforts, has written this controversial book. Who would expect an American president to have written against the Zionist entity when we see the American government today who are fully supportive of it? Carter proves to us that this was an exception rather than the rule i.e. during his own time he was involved in many talks in trying to broker peace in the Middle East. Most important of these were the Camp David Peace Accords between then Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and his counterpart the Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin. Regardless of the criticism towards the Camp David Accords, it does indicate the seriousness of Carter and his administration in seeing peace in Palestine. It would not be out of place to quote Carter at his Nobel Peace lecture in 2002 to show his seriousness in finding peace in the Middle East.

“For more than half a century, following the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, the Middle East conflict has been a source of worldwide tension. At Camp David in 1978 and in Oslo in 1993, Israelis, Egyptians, and Palestinians have endorsed the only reasonable prescription for peace: United Nations Resolution 242. It condemns the acquisition of territory by force, calls for withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories, and provides for Israelis to live securely and in harmony with their neighbors. There is no other mandate whose implementation could more profoundly improve international relationships.”[1]

In this book he emphasizes the same inclination that only peace and not apartheid can succeed in the Middle East. He greatly disapproves of the present American government and its attitude in supporting all the policies of the state of Israel without question. When questioned in an online interview regarding his book, as to what sort of balance he would like to see in the Middle East, he says:

“Yeah, the word “balance” is one that’s almost unacceptable in our country. If you had a candidate for Congress running either Democratic or Republican and they announced to the general public, “I’m going to take a balanced position between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” they would never be elected. That’s an impossibility in our country. But that doesn’t preclude an incumbent administration from demonstrating with their own actions and words that they are concerned about Israeli peace, they are also concerned about peace and justice for the Palestinians. And that’s what I did. It’s what Richard Nixon did. It’s what Ronald Reagan did after I left office. It’s what George Bush, Sr. did. It’s what Bill Clinton did. But it’s not being done now.”[2]

It was no surprise than that the responses towards his book have been outright hostility with major newspapers not even mentioning his book when it first came out. The provocative title could have also contributed towards this.

The book itself reads very well. It has 17 chapters with a summary at the end. It also has 7 appendices. The appendices consist of details of UN Resolutions 242 of 1967 and 338 of 1973, details of the Camp David Accords of 1978, details of the Framework for Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty of 1978, UN Resolution 465 of 1987, details regarding the Arab Peace Proposal of 2002 and Israel’s response to the Roadmap on May 25, 2003.

The book outlines Carter’s views on peace in Palestine and the Middle East and Carter is strongly an advocate for the retreat of Israel to its 1967 borders in accordance with UN Resolution 242.

The aim of the book is to educate the American public with regards to the issues in the Middle East i.e. Palestine and Israel. At the beginning of the book you get a chronological list of events connected to Palestine from the earliest beginnings from the time of Abraham to the present time i.e. August 2006.  

The book follows the various events in which the American government was directly involved in Palestine and Israel. It follows a chronological path from one US President to another, from his own presidency till the present government of George W. Bush and their contribution in dealing with the Palestine issue. Maps detailing the results of such talks are attached to the relevant chapters. Each of the attempts towards peace i.e. the Camp David Accords (pp.37-53), the Oslo peace agreement (pp.133-8), the “Roadmap”(pp.159-161) and the Geneva Initiative (pp.166-8) are all given sufficient coverage with succinct descriptions.

He describes the Camp David Accords and the Geneva Initiative in much detail seeing that he was involved in each. His involvement with the former was while he was US president from 1977-1981 and in the latter his involvement had been as the founder of the Carter Center for Peace. The main issue with the Geneva Initiative would be peace at the expense of Palestinians’ right of return which has been passed as UN resolution 194 in 1948 where it is stated that,

“that the refugees (Palestinians) wishing to return to their homes and live in peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property..”     

The Geneva Initiative removes the right of return and instead opts for wholesale compensation (pg.166) for the 2-3 million Palestinian refugees who had been displaced due to the actions of the Israelis in history. Carter regards the Geneva Initiative to be a success and a way forward,

“We believed that a majority of Israelis and Palestinians would welcome a comprehensive agreement even if it meant making substantial concessions on settlements and the other major issues.” (pg.164)

In chapter 16 of the book he severely criticizes the building of the dividing wall and describes the wall as the “Imprisonment wall” (pg.174). This is the chapter where the title of the book, in particular the word “apartheid”, connects with the body of the narrative. Carter describes Israel’s building of the wall as part of the apartheid system against the Muslim and Christian Palestinians. Unlike South Africa, it is not racism which is the substance of apartheid which is present here, but acquisition of land (pg. 189-90). The whole chapter indicates Carter’s dislike with the building of the wall in the West Bank and Gaza which had divided 200,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem; it limits the movement of Christian pilgrims from worshipping at the Santa Marta Monastery as the “thirty-foot concrete wall cuts through the property” (pg.194) causing 2,000 Palestinian Christians to lose their spiritual center and place of worship etc.

Carter also includes the International Court’s disapproval of the wall and its call for it to be dismantled and the Palestinians compensated, which was unanimously rejected by Israel’s highest court.  The building of the wall and reactions towards it in Gaza led towards the war on Lebanon. In response to a show of solidarity with the Palestinians who were attacked by the Israelis when they were demonstrating against the wall, Hezbollah had in turn attacked and captured 2 Israeli soldiers. Israel read this as the whole nation of Lebanon having declared war upon it and thus bombarded 7,000 targets in Lebanon and killed many thousands of innocent lives. Carter mentions the US government’s stand of support for Israel’s continued bombardment of Lebanon and its inaction in calling for a ceasefire. The US also denied and blocked France’s effort for an immediate ceasefire (pg. 200). He falls short in actually criticizing the US directly but the point is made. He ends this chapter which is the last chapter of the book on an optimistic view by quoting a statement from the Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh in June 2006 that Hamas would not have a problem living in peace in a sovereign Palestinian State within the 1967 borders.

The beauty of the book lies in the description Carter gives regarding his visits to historical and religious (Christian) sites while on duty in Palestine and in Israel. He begins the book with such a description and he weaves the narrative between politics and history to good effect. The beauty of Palestine (chapter 1) and its surrounding areas is exposed while narrating the various peace efforts and describing the various political actors.

In conclusion, this book demonstrates the view of a former US president towards achieving peace in Palestine. Its strength lies in the narrative description on the historical processes or attempts in achieving peace as Carter was involved at the highest level in various events and he does gives us details of his role and his friendship with various Israeli figures.

I would end this review by quoting the last paragraph of Carter’s book in full:

“Peace will come to Israel and the Middle-East only when the Israeli government is willing to comply with International law, with the Roadmap for Peace, with official American policy, with the wishes of a majority of its own citizens – and honor its own previous commitments – by accepting its legal borders. All Arab neigbours must pledge honor to Israel’s right to live in peace under these conditions. The United States is squandering international prestige and goodwill and intensifying global anti-American terrorism by unofficially condoning or abetting the Israeli confiscation and colonization of Palestinian territories. It will be a tragedy-for the Israelis, the Palestinians and the world- if peace is rejected and a system of oppression, apartheid, and sustained violence is permitted to prevail.” (pg. 216).

[1] From http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2002/carter-lecture.html accessed on the 28th May 2007.
[2] From http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=06/11/30/1452225 accessed on the 28th of May 2007.

Mohamad Nasrin Nasir

Mohamad Nasrin Nasir is a PhD student in Islamic Thought at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization in Malaysia, and a sub-editor of Palestine Internationalist.