Before his controversial book used the “A-word” (apartheid), I never understood the reflexive, visceral hostility harbored for Jimmy Carter in the mainstream American Jewish community. He made a good many political mistakes early in his admnistration, using code words like “Palestinian homeland” and almost casually intimating that the U.S. and Israel should deal with the PLO before the community was ready for ithat kind of language, along with other gaffes. But he deserved better at the time and he deserves better now.
His latest book was deeply flawed. But even if one judges the man on the basis of whether he was and is “good for the Jews,” the Manichean prism through which my grandmother viewed the universe, he passes the test. Let me spell it out plainly: THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN NO PEACE BETWEEN ISRAEL AND EGYPT WITHOUT JIMMY CARTER’S MEDIATION. Doesn’t he deserve a certain amount of gratitude for that? He gets none. Instead, he has become a kind of totemic hate object for both the mainstream Jewish community here and the Israeli government.
It made absolutely no sense for Israeli officials and politicians to shun him during his recent trip to the region, as noted by Akiva Eldar in Haaretz. Leaving aside the lack of good manners, the Israeli government unaccountably passed on an opportunity to get valuable information about Hamas from one of the world’s most skilled diplomats.
Dr. Robert Pastor, senior adviser to the Carter Center…says that up-to-date information about contacts concerning the release of Shalit would have helped Carter get more from Meshal than a promise of a letter from the captive soldier..Some see the impressions gained by Carter and his people during their Middle East trip, particularly those gleaned from Damascus, as a gold mine for those who determine policy and make assessments. Researchers from Israel’s Foreign Ministry and the intelligence community usually pounce on any diplomat who had coffee with a minor Syrian adviser. Pastor cannot recall any incident in which an entire establishment has forsaken the rare opportunity to receive a firsthand briefing about such major issues on the national agenda.
Ten days ago, Haaretz had an equally sensible editorial called Our Debt to Jimmy Carter.
The editorialist’s take on the controversy over the A-word is worth reading, if only because one doesn’t see arguments like this in the American media:
It is doubtful whether it is possible to complain when an outside observer, especially a former U.S. president who is well versed in international affairs, sees in the system of separate roads for Jews and Arabs, the lack of freedom of movement, Israel’s control over Palestinian lands and their confiscation, and especially the continued settlement activity, which contravenes all promises Israel made and signed, a matter that cannot be accepted. The interim political situation in the territories has crystallized into a kind of apartheid that has been ongoing for 40 years. In Europe there is talk of the establishment of a binational state in order to overcome this anomaly. In the peace agreement with Egypt, 30 years ago, Israel agreed to “full autonomy” for the occupied territories, not to settle there.
These promises have been forgotten by Israel, but Carter remembers.
Whether Carter’s approach to conflict resolution is considered by the Israeli government as appropriate or defeatist, no one can take away from the former U.S. president his international standing, nor the fact that he brought Israel and Egypt to a signed peace that has since held. Carter’s method, which says that it is necessary to talk with every one, has still not proven to be any less successful than the method that calls for boycotts and air strikes. In terms of results, at the end of the day, Carter beats out any of those who ostracize him. For the peace agreement with Egypt, he deserves the respect reserved for royalty for the rest of his life.