Former President Jimmy Carter implemented what was perhaps the most important piece of diplomacy between Israel and Palestine in history: the Camp David Accords of 1978. As the mediator between Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, he managed to persuade the leaders of Israel and Egypt into signing an agreement that had seemed impossible, along the way amassing a volume of information and insight about the Middle East’s most enduring conflict that is unrivaled. It is this volume of information, first-hand experience, and keen insight that he brings to bear in his new book
--All of which makes him very hard to refute. And it is for this reason—his authority on this issue—that he has been personally attacked so viciously by the pro-Israeli forces (including most of the media and the U.S. Congress) in the United States. They know that if Jimmy Carter refers to “apartheid” in the title of his book, there must be a basis for that usage.
There is. What Israel has done with its continuing settlements in the occupied territories and with the building of its wall (the wall is not only wholly built on the Palestinian side of the “green line” but also cuts deeply into Palestinian territory in countless places to protect major Israeli settlements and to isolate major Palestinian cities) is to create a de facto system comparable to the infamous one erected by whites in South Africa. One need only look at one of Carter’s maps to see this. The illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank in effect carve up the territory supposed to be allotted to a Palestinian state into “bantustans”—small islands of land cut off from each other to the extent that no sane person could call this a unified state. When one adds the separate road system (only Jewish settlers can use the good roads, with Palestinians shunted to their own inferior roads blocked with countless checkpoints), the unequal water system (“each Jewish settler uses five times as much water as a Palestinian neighbor, who must pay five times as much per gallon” p. 121), the fact that the wall cuts off “about 200,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem from their relatives, property, schools, and businesses,” (p. 195), and the fact that “untreated sewage [from settlers’ villages] is discharged onto the surrounding fields and villages” (p. 121) of the Palestinians, one can be in no doubt that this is, indeed, apartheid of a particularly vicious kind. The International Court of Justice has agreed, in a July 2004 ruling “the Israeli government’s construction of the segregation wall in the occupied Palestinian West Bank was illegal.” (p. 193)
Jimmy Carter has pointed all this out in no uncertain terms. His doing so has been taken as a flagrant violation of the unwritten pact governing political and media discourse in the United States, i.e., that no information detrimental to Israeli policy can be publicly aired. To do so, thereby incurring the resultant charges of “anti-Semitism,” is tantamount to political suicide. Given the fact that Carter even more egregiously violated the pact when he was president, by actually, in response to a 1978 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, warning Prime Minister Begin “that if Israeli forces remained in Lebanon, I would have to notify Congress, as required by law, that U.S. weapons were being used illegally in Lebanon, which would automatically cut off all military aid to Israel” (p. 44), whence Israel withdrew, it is not surprising that Carter’s new book would cause such furor.
One can only hope the furor will fail, or better still, backfire. For Carter’s book has done a signal service to the right of free political discourse in the United States. He has hammered away at the central problem preventing peace in the Middle East: that Israel has been in violation of United Nations resolutions almost continuously since its victory in the 1967 war. UN Security Council Resolution 242 refers, without equivocation, to “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war,” and states, “fulfillment of Charter principles requires…Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” It also calls for “achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem” (all quotes p. 218). This language could not be clearer, and yet, for forty years now Israel has maintained its illegal occupation of Palestinian land, established hundreds of illegal settlements on the best of that land, and is now dividing up what remains into virtually unlivable bantustans. It is also literally starving the Palestinians of resources and everything that makes life even modestly livable. To talk of a two-state solution with these settlements and this apartheid wall in place is to speak nonsense—and Jimmy Carter points this out. For this, for his honesty, his courage, and the measured, authoritative nature of his presentation, we all owe him a debt of gratitude. One can only hope that members of the United States Congress will find even a small modicum of Carter’s courage to demand the fairness, honesty and real American justice that he recommends.