Provocative president points finger at Israel

My following book review appeared in yesterday’s Sydney Sun-Herald newspaper:

Palestine: Peace not Apartheid
Jimmy Carter
(Simon & Schuster, $45)

When US President Jimmy Carter delivered his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 2002 – awarded for “advancing democracy and human rights” and bringing peace between Israel and Egypt in 1978 – he reiterated the importance of UN 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 neighbours”, he said. “There is no other mandate whose implementation could more profoundly improve international relationships.”

Carter’s uncontroversial position is now under attack by the Zionist lobby after the publication of Palestine: Peace not Apartheid in which he states that Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine has created a system that is in many ways worse than apartheid South Africa.

The numerous checkpoints, confiscation of land, building of a separation wall and indiscriminate killing of civilians is causing yet another generation of Palestinians to only know the Israelis as brutal occupiers.

Carter has said that the majority of his Zionist critics haven’t actually spent time in the occupied territories and instead label his book “anti-Israel”, code for daring to question the ever-tightening restrictions on Palestinian civilians.

Carter told Newsweek that the leading US Zionist lobby, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, “is not designed to promote peace”¦They have a perfect right to lobby, but their purpose in life is to protect and defend the policies of the Israeli government and to make sure those policies are approved in the United States and in our Congress.”

It is virtually impossible to objectively assess the current state of Israeli policies in Palestine without being accused of treason, anti-Semitism or dishonesty. Carter navigates these waters with general aplomb, however, and spends some of the book discussing his own role in negotiating Middle East peace.

He unequivocally blames successive Israeli governments for refusing to give up their colonial addiction to land, building more settlements on occupied territory and indulging the extremist ideology of the settler movement.

Peace will never be achieved, he argues, until the occupation mindset is buried forever. Which US President will be brave enough to start? During the Oslo peace process years, settlements doubled in size and Palestinians soon realised that the agreements between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin were meaningless. Facts-on-the-ground spoke far more loudly than any deal struck with then US President Bill Clinton.

Carter has convincingly defended his book against various charges, though the work does contain a few errors, such as mistakenly claiming that Jews and Arabs have equal rights in Israel proper, when in fact, discrimination against non-Jews is both legalised and informal.

Israel’s new Deputy Prime Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has spoken of forcibly separating Israelis and Palestinians and creating a purely Jewish state. He is not a fringe player but a prominent member of the Israeli cabinet.

This book is far from the last word on the conflict but its singular achievement has been to alert a worldwide and mainstream audience that Israel is practicing apartheid-like policies in the occupied territories.

Although Carter is correct in condemning Palestinian suicide bombing, he acknowledges that extremists on both sides will only be marginalised when honest negotiations take place.

During the Bush administration, the role of the United States has been hopelessly one-sided and the Arab world rightly sees Israel as incapable of making any serious peace initiative unless receiving permission from Washington.

“The bottom line is this”, concludes Carter. “Peace will come to Israel and the Middle East only when the Israeli government is willing to comply with international law.”

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