Palestine Peace Not Apartheid
by Jimmy Carter
One of Jimmy Carter’s lifelong goals has been to find a way to create a peaceful solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Carter has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, spoken with political leaders and ordinary citizens, and studied the underlying issues and concerns of Israel, Palestine, and the other Arab nations that neighbor both countries. In Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, Carter explores the history of this volatile conflict, explains past attempts at peace, and suggests measures that need to be taken in order for any peace plan to succeed.
Carter’s first trip to Israel was at the invitation of Yitzhak Rabin during his term as Governor of Georgia. After his first visit, Carter thought that Israel should leave the territories they occupied at the time in the interest of peace. As Carter became more involved with the key players in the conflict, he began to see that the solution to the conflict is much more complicated than simply turning over land.
Throughout the years, many attempts have been made to negotiate an agreement between Israeli leaders and the Palestinians. One of the most notable attempts was one spearheaded by Carter during his presidency. Carter brought Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat together at Camp David for a twelve day summit. Carter worked with both leaders in order to create the Camp David Accords. However, these Accords are violated and abandoned a few years later.
The presence of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) has also complicated matters. Many of the actions taken by this organization have been seen as terrorist acts by Israel and other countries worldwide. These acts have continued because the people committing these acts are seen as martyrs and glorified by the Palestinian people. Because of this, the actions have continued, and at some points, intensified.
A recent threat to the peace process is the existence of a wall encircling the Palestinian people, segregating the Palestinians from the Israelis. Many world leaders see the existence of this wall as a form of apartheid, and the United Nations has called the existence of this wall unlawful. One of the main reasons the wall has been constructed is because it allows Israel to claim land that had been previously held by Palestine. The United Nations has demanded that the wall be removed and that Israel should compensate the Palestinians that have been negatively impacted by the construction of the wall. Carter believes that no steps toward peace can be made until this wall has been removed.
Carter’s book does an excellent job explaining a very complicated and controversial history. Carter provides a timeline in the beginning of the book to help readers understand the significance and impact of past events. He also describes the conditions that must be met in order to create a successful, long-term peace plan.
Carter’s unique position allows the reader a different perspective than other books on the topic. Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid presents the history of the conflict between Israel and Palestine from the perspective of a leader who continues to work in order to reach an acceptable middle ground.
Carter discusses that one of his major life goals is to help ensure peace for the Israelis and others in the Middle East. This region is important because of it volatility and ties to terrorist groups.
The War in Iraq has complicated matters even more. Israel has nuclear weapons, Sunni and Shia Muslims are at odds, Iran is gaining power, and militant Arabs are struggling against Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Most Arab nations now recognize Israel as a permanent country as part of a summit in 2002. They also recognize the right of the Palestinian people to decide their own fate via peaceful methods.
Carter believes the U.S. should help the peace process by acting as a neutral negotiating partner in developing a new peace plan.
Carter first traveled to Israel in 1973 after he was visited in Georgia by Yitzhak Rabin as part of an effort by Israel to strengthen relationships with American leaders.
He spent the first week of his trip sightseeing. The last three days were spent with Israeli leaders. He left with the impression that Israel would work for peace, perhaps even leaving the occupied territories in the interest of peace.
Carter was shocked when Egypt and Syria attacked Israeli occupied territories. Kissinger, then Secretary of State, was able to end the conflict after 20 days.
During Carter’s presidency, the PLO was a powerful force. Carter began to work with Yitzhak Rabin, but he lost the election to Menachem Begin, who was not interested in a permanent peace agreement with the Arabs.
Begin was known as a "fighting Jew," and had the reputation of being devoted to his goals. Carter convinced Begin to meet with other Arab leaders, but these meeting were not successful.
The PLO attacked an Israeli bus, and Israel invaded Lebanon in retaliation.
Carter invited Begin and Sadat, the Egyptian leader, to a summit at Camp David. Begin and Sadat could not work together, so Carter worked with them individually on the Camp David Accords.
In 1947, the United Nations approved a partition plan for Palestine. This created Israel, who took over 77% of the land, leaving Palestine with the West Bank and Gaza.
The Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO, formed when Israel announced plans to divert water from the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River for irrigation. This caused a conflict. As a result, Israeli military forces occupied the Golan Heights, Gaza, the Sinai, Jerusalem, and the West Bank. This drove the Palestinians out of their homes.
Israel was created after World War II in order to create a safe home for Jews and return to the Holy Land.
Israel has maintained one of the strongest military forces in the world. This has caused resentment among other nations.
Syrian leaders have been willing to work for peace if Israel honors all U.N. resolutions, defines its own borders, respects the rights of Palestinians, and recognizes the borders of other countries.
Many displaced Palestinians found refuge in Jordan. Jordan was concerned that Israel would start encroaching on lands held by Jordan.
Egypt tried to distance itself from other Arab nations in the interest of peace. Egyptians are now becoming more concerned about the growing number of Israelis in Egypt.
Lebanon’s leaders have claimed to be neutral in the conflict against Syria and Israel. Israel bombed Lebanese cities, which caused an international uproar.
Hezbollah was formed in Lebanon to resist the Israeli occupation. They are supported by Iran and Syria. Israeli troops have tried to destroy Hezbollah to no avail.
Carter believes Saudi Arabia will be a key player in a permanent peace agreement because they want stability in the region.
The Israelis invaded Lebanon in 1982, forcing out the PLO. Carter visits Israel during this time as a private citizen and meets the Israeli Prime Minister who violated the Camp David Accords. This conversation is brief and hostile. Israel was more like a police state at this time. He noticed the country seemed to be divided between the militants and the Jewish people living according to Hebrew scripture.
Carter started talking with Palestinians through the PLO office in Jerusalem. They were eager to discuss how Israel has negatively impacted their lives, including being deprived of their basic civil rights. They often denounced the U.S. for supporting Israel.
Carter took these concerns to the Israeli government, who responded to the charges by explaining their actions as part of a military state.
The Israeli court system did not allow justice for the Palestinians. Palestinians lawyers were not allowed to practice law in Israeli courts.
In 1988, peace appeared to be possible. Yasser Arafat announced the PLO would recognize the rights of Israel and the Israeli border defined in 1967. Middle Eastern leaders were willing to begin negotiations, but the US was focused on the Gulf War.
In 1991, a peace conference in Madrid gave leaders hope for a peace agreement.
Norway helped orchestrate peace talks between Israel and the PLO. Carter receives a call from Arafat to meet him. Arafat tells Carter they have reached a peace agreement.
Carter is at the White House when the Oslo Agreement was signed. In the agreement, Israeli troops will gradually leave the West Bank, a Palestinian government will be established, and more difficult issues will be addressed. Israel agreed to recognize the PLO’s right to exist in peace.
The Carter Center has helped countries around the world ensure free and fair elections. The organization helped during the 1996 Palestinian election at Arafat’s request.
Carter was concerned the Israeli military presence would impede the election process, but was assured this would not happen by the government. He also wondered if Palestinians living in East Jerusalem would be voting as residents or as aliens casting absentee ballots.
On Election Day, the Israeli military presence was strong and intimidating. As a result, only 1,600 people voted in Jerusalem. Overall, results were better outside of Jerusalem with about 75% of voters reporting. Arafat won the election with 88% of the vote.
Palestinians terrorists were responsible for two suicide bombings in March 1996. As a result, Israel and Palestine were at odds again. The terms of the previously approved Oslo Agreement went ignored as more Israeli settlers moved into Palestinian lands. More violence followed.
President Clinton tried to find common ground between Israel and Palestine and hosted several peace talks. These talks were unsuccessful.
The violence in the Middle East continued to increase during Ariel Sharon’s term as Prime Minister. He strongly opposed the Oslo agreement and promised to counteract attacks on Israeli targets.
Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah offered Israel normal relations with all Arab states if Israel would comply with U.N. Resolutions 194 and 242. President George W. Bush encouraged other leaders to make the same commitment.
Sharon surrounded Arafat’s compound in Ramallah in an attempt to arrest Arafat. The U.N. demanded that Israel withdraw from Ramallah, which Israel ignored. Arafat was confined there until a few days before he died.
Bush demanded Israeli troops return to the positions they held before September 2000, refrain from new settlement activity, and negotiate terms to meet U.N. Resolution 242.
A "roadmap" for resolving the conflict was announced in April 2003. Palestinians accepted the plan, but Israel wanted to add 14 caveats, which caused the Roadmap for Peace to be abandoned.
A group of Israelis and Palestinians worked to build on the peace efforts of the Clinton administration. This group, lead by former Israeli Prime Minister Beilin and former Palestinian deputy minister of information and culture Yasser Abed Rabbo, contacted Carter to work with them.
Carter met with Beilin, who told him their goal was to issue a peace proposal without either government that would be acceptable to both sides. This plan was called the Geneva Initiative.
The plan includes secure borders and recognition by the Arab world for Israel. The dividing border would be based on the lines established in 1967, but will allow Israel to keep some of its larger settlements.
The Geneva Initiative is an unofficial document that has not been formally approved by either country. Sharon condemned the document outright, while Arafat agreed with the spirit of the process, but not the wording of the final document.
As a result of the plan, Israel’s cabinet called for the disengagement from the Gaza Strip.
The Carter Center was asked to observe the 2005 Palestinian election after Arafat’s death. The Israeli officials had voters’ lists that did not contain the names of the people who came to vote, so most voters were turned away. Carter threatened to hold an international press conference, and the prime minister’s office allowed all who came to vote.
Mahmoud Abbas won the election. He was dedicated to the peace plan outlined in the Roadmap, but would need U.S. and Arab support.
Carter saw the dividing wall being built by the Israelis to encircle the Palestinians who remained in the West Bank.
The Palestinian parliamentary elections scheduled for July 2005 were postponed until January 2006. The Carter Center went to observe this election.
The same voting difficulties arose in East Jerusalem as in previous elections, but there were few problems in other locations. Hamas won 74 of 132 parliamentary seats. Members of the Fatah government immediately resigned.
Hamas tried to convince Fatah members to take some cabinet positions, but had to fill the positions with Hamas members when they were turned down.
The Hamas government announced they were willing to talk with the opposition.
Israeli leaders have made a series of unilateral decisions without the input of Palestinians or the U.S. They believe the barrier wall will solve the Palestinian problem. Their motivation is to acquire more land.
The International Court of Justice at the U.N. has declared the wall to be illegal and violated international humanitarian law. The court demanded the segregation wall to be torn down and to compensate the Palestinians. Israel has not acknowledged these demands.
In June 2006, Palestinians dug a tunnel under the wall, attacked Israeli soldiers, and kidnapped one of them. The Palestinians offered to release the soldier in exchange for the release of 95 women and 313 children in Israeli prisons. Israel refused and invaded Gaza. The violence escalated on both sides and spread to Lebanon, resulting in heavy casualties. The U.N. passed Resolution 1701 that would end the Israeli-Lebanese war.
Carter identifies two obstacles that must be resolved before any peace agreement can be permanent. The first obstacle is Israel must stop believing they have a right to take and colonize Palestinian land. The second obstacle is Palestinians must stop glorifying the acts of suicide bombers.
The key requirements to a viable peace plan include: the security of Israel must be guaranteed, Israel must determine a permanent legal boundary, and the sovereignty of all Middle Eastern governments must be honored.
Carter believes peace will come to the Middle East when Israel will comply with international law. Arab nations must recognize the rights of Israel in order for any peace plan to succeed.