Monday, December 11, 2006

Carter's Palestine-Israel Book: It's Even Worse Than They Say, by Gidon D. Remba

Carter's Palestine-Israel Book: It's Even Worse Than They Say

Carter's top 10 misrepresentations reveal systematic anti-Israel bias and a Manichean view of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict


Gidon D. Remba

December 11, 2006
As published at Engage

A close reading of Carter's Palestine-Israel book leads to the inescapable conclusion: it's even worse than the critics say. The book is replete with major errors of fact, all systematically biased against Israel. Carter never makes a single factual error that works in Israel's favor, or against the Palestinians. He offers an abundance of misstatements and distortions that paint Israel black. Some of the most egregious have already been highlighted by others. But Carter's approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is as one-sided as that of the Israel haters. Though Carter himself is no Israel hater, at times he does an uncanny impersonation of one, serving up a morality tale of Israeli demons and Palestinian angels forced to descend to hell by the depredations of the evil Israelis. Throughout the book Carter unfailingly shows deep sympathy for Palestinian perceptions, while displaying little understanding for Israeli attitudes or needs. The book suffers from a deep and uncritical pro-Palestinian bias that makes a mockery of Carter’s pretensions to fair arbiter and peacemaker.

Despite his grotesque misdiagnosis of the conflict, Carter advocates many of the same constructive policies endorsed by moderates on the Zionist left and center in Israel and the American Jewish community. This is hardly surprising. Even the Presbyterian Church managed to endorse the Geneva Initiative as a model for a final peace treaty while advocating their morally objectionable, unhelpful and one-sided divestment policy against Israel, while taking no concrete steps at first—and only token steps later—against those who support Palestinian terror. The Presbyterian embrace was by no means a discredit to the Geneva concept. It simply showed the Presbyterian leadership’s failure to grasp the spirit of Geneva, which calls for a Palestinian-Israeli dialogue based on mutual respect, not the demonization of one side and the use of economic boycotts against them. Carter's book reminds us that people come to pro-peace policy positions from very different places, and sometimes these places are not very sympathetic, even quite unfriendly, to Israel. Many others, after all, come to similar conclusions from a robust and deeply held commitment to Zionism and to Israel's security and well-being—including many who have devoted their entire lives and careers to Israel. Policies should be judged on their merits, not on guilt by association.

In what follows, I present ten major errors in Carter's book—serious distortions and misrepresentations of fact which add up to a systematic anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian bias and a Manichean view of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Peacemakers finesse the art of being at once pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian. Carter fails to live up to his self-appointed mission.

1. Carter Misreads International Law, Treating Palestinian Suicide Bombing and Israel's Targeted Killings with Moral Parity

Carter habitually cites international law as a basis for a just peace. But when he talks about the war conduct of the parties to the conflict, he ignores the laws of war, including the Geneva Convention, which he is happy to cite when useful for condemning Israeli conduct, but never when it is at odds with his own prejudices. He cites international law when it serves his purpose, casting it aside when it doesn't. This might be bearable had Carter offered a cogent (or any) moral argument for doing so, for rejecting the laws of war as morally inadequate. But he fails to do so. He simply side-steps whatever might be inconvenient for his case. Here is an example of the kind of pacifistic false parity of which Carter is fond: "The killing of noncombatants in Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon by bombs, missile attacks, assassinations, or other acts of violence cannot be condoned." This lumps together as morally equivalent all Israeli targeted killings of suspected terrorists with Palestinian suicide bombings of Israeli civilians. It fails to distinguish real ticking bombs—like Qassam launch squads in Gaza or Lebanon preparing to fire rockets into Israeli cities from Palestinian or Shiite residential areas, guerrillas who, by their deeds, have lost their civilian noncombatant immunity—from Palestinian, Lebanese and Israeli civilians who do not participate in combat and who therefore qualify for protection under the laws of war. Carter further conflates accidental unintended deaths of innocents which are permitted under the laws of war if the combatant is making reasonable efforts to attack a military target or combatant, and to minimize harm to civilians, as Israel often does, with deliberate targeting of civilians with the aim of maximizing harm to them, which Palestinian suicide bombers always seek.

2. Carter Misrepresents Israel's Plan for the Route of the Barrier, Painting Israel as Seeking to Encapsulate Palestinians into Bantustans in a Truncated Non-Viable State

Carter writes that "the area along the Jordan River, which is now planned as the eastern leg of the [Israeli] encirclement of the Palestinians, is one of Palestine's most lucrative and productive agricultural regions." (p. 195) American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris has noted that Carter's claim that Israel plans to build an eastern fence in the Jordan Valley to completely surround the Palestinian areas on all sides and turn them into Bantustans is false. The Israeli government never approved the early proposal for an eastern fence. The plan was unceremoniously tossed out some years ago, emerging still-born, as reported widely in the Israeli and international media. Yet Carter pretends that the eastern barrier is an approved and operative Israeli government plan, just like the barrier now going up in the western portion of the West Bank. He uncritically repeats common Palestinian propaganda, which I heard from many Palestinians when I visited the West Bank and East Jerusalem this past summer. Apparently no fact checking on this all-important point was necessary for Carter, as the noble innocent Palestinian victims of Israeli oppression and apartheid told him so, and that is always proof enough for him.

3. Carter's Evil Israeli "Segregation Wall"

Carter calls the separation barrier "the segregation wall" and accuses Israel of "imposing a system of partial withdrawal, encapsulation and apartheid on Muslim and Christian citizens of the occupied territories"—but he acknowledges that the "driving purpose for the forced separation of the two peoples is unlike that in South Africa—not racism, but acquisition of land." We should object first to the racial and racist connotations of calling the barrier a "segregation wall" (or "apartheid wall" as many Palestinians have dubbed it, but Carter does not use this actual term, even though the latter term is more than implied by his text). "Segregation wall" bears clear overtones from the terrible policy of racial segregation against blacks in the American south, belying Carter’s denials that Israeli apartheid in the West Bank has nothing to do with racism. Since Carter thinks Israel's barrier is equally unjust, representing ethnic-religious segregation against Muslim and Christian Palestinians by Israeli Jews, he has no problem with using this prejudicial term. "Separation barrier" is more neutral, whereas "segregation wall" is highly pejorative and implies a harsh moral absolutist condemnation of Israel's barrier. A well-informed and fair-minded view of the barrier would be more nuanced, and less black and white.

Carter continues to regard all Israeli withdrawal plans from the West Bank which fall short of a complete withdrawal, or something close to it, as bad faith Israeli schemes to impose apartheid-like inequality and to encapsulate the Palestinians in a suffocating Bantustan state. For Carter, the Israeli government cannot possibly have good intentions; nor might political and other constraints make a phased West Bank withdrawal necessary. Partial withdrawals always attest to the Israeli government’s nefarious schemes to subjugate the Palestinians and deprive them of their rights. Nor is Olmert proposing only to withdraw from 40% - 50% of the West Bank, and to annex the rest, as Sharon was in the early plan that bears his name, which would indeed have frozen the Palestinians for the long-term into a fragmented space, with little freedom.

Carter says that "the wall is designed to complete the enclosure of a severely truncated Palestine, a small portion of its original size, compartmentalized, divided into cantons, occupied by Israeli security forces, and isolated from the outside world." (p. 195) Carter ignores the fact that Israeli moderates and left-wing Zionists—in Meretz, Peace Now and among Labor doves and Kadima—favor the separation barrier (albeit in a route closer to the Green Line), but do not intend—nor will they allow— it to do any of the awful things Carter charges. Any actions taken by Israel to prevent arms smuggling and terror attacks against its citizens are not well-intentioned or apparently justified in Carter’s eyes; they exist only to isolate the Palestinians from the rest of the world. Peace can't be built around a better balance between Israeli and Palestinian rights, because only Palestinian rights really matter for Carter. For Carter, the barrier is evil incarnate. Carter is as much of a simplistic Manichean moralist as George W. Bush, and his preaching Sunday school moralism stems from the same religious zeal. In Carter's case that zeal is informed by different premises which lead him in a generally progressive direction rather than the militaristic path towards which Bush's religiosity leads him. But Carter's "progressivism" reminds us how, as the French say, les extrêmes se touchent: immoderate, zealous passion for the rights of just one side in a conflict (typically the side the moralist identifies as the underdog) can become oppressive, posing new obstacles to peace and reconciliation.

Carter continues with the certainty of a man to whom the Lord has spoken and who has no need of empirical fact: “It is obvious that the Palestinians will be left with no territory in which to establish a viable state,” he sermonizes, “but completely enclosed within the barrier and the occupied Jordan valley.” Nor does Carter trouble himself with checking such claims with those he accuses, or with affording them a fair chance to tell their side of the story. What is truly obvious is that for Carter the Israeli government—including the center-left government now led by Kadima and Labor—has nothing but ignoble intentions towards the Palestinians. That would be the Israeli government that the majority of Israeli citizens elected on a platform to end Israel's occupation of some 90% of the West Bank. Like Mearsheimer and Walt, Carter distinguishes, unpersuasively and artificially, between ordinary Jews and Israelis on the one hand, who are largely liberal and oppose such outrages, and their leaders—in Israel it's the government, in the US it's the Jewish organizational heads—who do little but place obstacles in the way of peace.

Carter misrepresents American Judge Thomas Buergenthal's dissent from the near-unanimous International Court opinion against Israel's separation barrier, claiming that the lone American dissent was based largely on "procedural grounds." In fact, Buergenthal had many substantive objections to the opinion rendered mostly by judges from countries who are unsympathetic to Israel and pro-Arab. Indeed, Buergenthal objected to the Court's wholesale denial of Israel's right to take action in defense of its citizens against acts of terrorism. Prominent international human rights experts, including Doug Cassel, Director of the Center for International Human Rights at the Northwestern University School of Law, and Buergenthal, have said that the opinion is “one-sided and imbalanced,” that it “virtually ignores the terrorist attacks on Israel, which led to the construction of the barrier,” and that its dismissal of Israel’s right to self-defense against terrorist attacks is “legally dubious” and based on an unreasonable construal of the rights of states to defend themselves that is inconsistent with the UN Security Council’s own resolutions. Carter further overlooks the fact that what Cassel terms the International Court's "lack of evenhandedness prompted protests by four of the 15 judges--from Britain, Japan, the Netherlands and the United States." (Doug Cassel, Chicago Tribune, July 25, 2004) The resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly on Israel’s barrier is more balanced, calling on the Palestinian Authority “to undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt and restrain” terrorist individuals and groups, and recognizes the right of all states including Israel “to counter deadly acts of violence against the civilian population.” Cassel notes that "The one-sidedness of the [International Court's] opinion thus undermined its effectiveness, not only in the U.S. and Israel--where reaction has been sharply critical--but even in Europe." The fate of Carter's book is likely to be much the same.

Carter claims that there are 375,000 Palestinians stuck on the "Israeli" side of the "wall." In fact, the modifications to the barrier's route that Israel is currently making as a result of a dozen lawsuits working their way through Israel's High Court will reduce the 20,000 - 40,000 West Bank Palestinians now left on the Israeli side to just 2,500 (according to statements made to me and an Americans for Peace Now delegation by Israel's Justice Minister in June 2006). One must add to that the 175,000 Palestinians with East Jerusalem Israeli resident identity cards; but the total number is significantly less than what Carter claims.

4. Carter's Blame-Israel-Only Approach: Palestinian Misdeeds Are Merely Reactions to Israeli Oppression

Here is Carter's Manichean analysis of the entire Palestinian-Israeli conflict in a nutshell. In his concluding summary, he states that "there are two interrelated obstacles to permanent peace in the Middle East"--as if the Palestinian-Israeli conflict were the only source of conflict in the entire region; forget the Sunni-Shia civil war in Iraq or in Lebanon, or Iran's role in promoting hatred, terror and extremism. Carter's two obstacles to peace are as follows:
"1. Some Israelis believe they have the right to confiscate and colonize Palestinian land and try to justify the sustained subjugation and persecution of increasingly hopeless and aggravated Palestinians; and
2. Some Palestinians react by honoring suicide bombers as martyrs to be rewarded in heaven and consider the killing of Israelis as victories.
In turn Israel responds with retribution and oppression, and militant Palestinians refuse to recognize the legitimacy of Israel and vow to destroy the nation."

Israel's occupation, in Carter eyes, is the primary cause of the conflict, and Palestinian suicide bombings are simply a reaction to Israeli injustice. Even Palestinian rejectionism sounds here as if it is merely a response to Israel's evils. This way of thinking had been roundly criticized when it infused the divestment resolution of the Presbyterian Church, which identified the Israeli occupation as "the root of evil acts committed." At the time, Rabbis for Human Rights published a strong response to this Manichean mindset, which is equally appropriate in response to Carter:
"Your resolution purporting to support the Geneva Initiative declares without reservation that the 'occupation…has proven to be at the root of evil acts committed against innocent people on both sides of the conflict.' Like you, we hate the Occupation, condemn it and work for its speedy end in a peace accord...Your simplistic declaration is inaccurate and inadequate to explain the situation in all its tragic moral complexity. It is not just that your resolution ignores the homicidal ideologies that have so sadly taken hold among some of our Palestinian neighbors. Nor is the problem that it averts its eyes from the attempts to destroy our country that transcend the Occupation and precede it by decades...You passed a resolution directed as a 'call …on the Israeli government,' describing the Occupation in a way that profoundly places Israeli sin alone at the heart of the situation....You ignore the incontrovertible fact that this catastrophe is the product of many causes and that there is guilt enough to share between all parties."

This rabbinic statement reminded us that Palestinian rejectionism preceded Israel's occupation and is an independent cause of the conflict. Nor will Palestinian rejectionism evaporate when the occupation ends, though it will be easier to combat if the moderates have won the day. As this Presbyterian-Jewish exchange unfolded, Carter clearly was not listening.

5. Carter Misrepresents Israeli and Palestinian Positions on the Road Map--Painting Israel as the Sole Obstacle to Peace

Carter says that "the Palestinians have accepted the road map in its entirety, but the Israeli government announced fourteen caveats and prerequisites, some of which would preclude any final peace talks." He prints Israel's reservations in an appendix, offering none of the many hateful screeds produced by extremist Palestinian groups, Hezbollah or Iran. But that would only overcomplicate Carter’s morality play and its easy plot line. (One of my favorites is a recent quote from a Palestinian militant in Gaza in the international media who confessed that the goal in firing rockets at the Israeli city of Sderot was to turn it into a “ghost town.” Had an Israeli made such a statement about using force against Palestinians, Carter would surely have accused Israel of threatening ethnic cleansing. Then there are the many peace-loving speeches of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promising to “eliminate the Zionist regime” and that Israel is but a “temporary country” that “should be wiped off the map,” a “rotten, dried tree” that will be annihilated by “one storm.” No room for these in Carter’s book.) After enumerating some of Israel's key reservations in the main text, Carter concludes that "the practical result of all this is that the Road Map for Peace has become moot." (p. 160) Once again it is Israel that is the entire obstacle to peace; the Palestinians contribute nothing to this outcome, and any contribution they make is merely a function of Israel's bad acts, which once stopped, would magically cease on the Palestinian side as well.

Not only is this one-sided blame-Israel-only style morally and politically objectionable, it is based on a perverse misreading of the facts. The claim that the Palestinians have accepted the Road Map in its entirety is quite simply false. Carter, with remarkable naïveté, takes at face value the claims of Palestinian spokespeople at the time the Road Map was announced. Such claims enabled the Palestinians to gain a short-lived propaganda victory, while the Israeli government was busy issuing reservations. But no one took such statements seriously, as if they represented the entire story--no one, that is, other than Carter and other unashamed shills for the Palestinians. The rest of us looked also at the conduct of both sides, at other things they said and did.

I agree with Carter that Israel's objections to the Road Map were intended to prevent it from being implemented so that Sharon could proceed with his unilateral plans. But the Palestinians also had major objections to the Road Map, and have completely failed to live up to its most central near-term (Phase I) requirement on their conduct--making a sustained effort to disarm terror groups and enforce a truce when renegade militias violate it. The Palestinians never intended to fulfill this element of the Road Map before the creation of a Palestinian state in the equivalent of 100% of the West Bank and Gaza and the realization of their other demands. They have regularly made clear, in both word and deed, that they objected to this obligation imposed on them by the Road Map. As the US has stated many times, both sides are obliged to fulfill their commitments under the Roadmap regardless of the performance of the other. Israel must dismantle the illegal West Bank settlement outposts regardless of whether the Palestinians have disarmed the terror groups, and the Palestinians cannot use Israel's failure to take serious action against the outposts as an excuse for inaction in fulfilling their security obligations. But Carter simply wishes all this away. For as Carter tells the tale, the Palestinians are good and noble, the Israelis are wicked—but only when they cross the Green Line—and the poor Palestinians do wrong only when the villainous Israelis force them to.

6. Carter Misrepresents Israeli Acceptance of the Clinton Peace Proposal

Carter claims that Barak gave "no clear response" to President Clinton's "final proposal," "but he later stated that Israel had twenty pages of reservations. President Arafat rejected the proposal"--a position which Carter regards as justified, on the grounds that "no Palestinian leader could accept such terms and survive." (pp. 150-2) Carter here misrepresents Israel's response to Clinton's proposal.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer interviewed former chief US Mideast negotiator Ambassador Dennis Ross on Carter's claims.

BLITZER: On that point, [Carter] told me that he understands better what happened at Camp David [II], where you were one of the principal negotiators, than the former president himself. I want you to listen to this exchange that we had the other day, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARTER: I hate to dispute Bill Clinton on your program, because he did a great and heroic effort there. He never made a proposal that was accepted by Barak or Arafat. BLITZER: Why would he [Clinton] write that in his book if he said Barak accepted and Arafat rejected it?
CARTER: I don't know. You can check with all the records, Barak never did accept it. (END VIDEO CLIP)
ROSS: That's simply not so.
BLITZER: Who is right, Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton on this question which is so relevant as to whether or not the Israelis at Camp David [sic: these proposals were made 5 months after Camp David] at the end of the Bill Clinton administration accepted the proposals the U.S. put forward? ROSS: The answer is President Clinton. The Israelis said yes to this twice, first at Camp David, there were a set of proposals that were put on the table that they accepted. And then were the Clinton parameters, the Clinton ideas which were presented in December, their government, meaning the cabinet actually voted it. You can go back and check it, December 27th the year 2000, the [Israeli] cabinet voted to approve the Clinton proposal, the Clinton ideas. So this is -- this is a matter of record. This is not a matter of interpretation.
BLITZER: So you're saying Jimmy Carter is flat wrong.
ROSS: On this issue, he's wrong.

Yossi Beilin, one of the architects of the Oslo Accords, served in Barak's cabinet at the time. He reports that "On December 28 [2000], at a meeting of the government, the [Clinton] plan was endorsed in principle together with permission to send reservations that had not been presented to the government for endorsement...From that moment, the Clinton Plan embodied Israel's stance on the Palestinian-Israeli issue." (p. 223, The Path to Geneva: The Quest for a Permanent Agreement 1996-2004.) Ross reports this as well in his memoir, The Missing Peace (pp. 754-5), as does Shlomo Ben-Ami, Israel's foreign minister at the time (see his Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy, p. 272). Ross adds there that Israel's reservations were "within the [Clinton] parameters, not outside them."

On January 2, 2001 Clinton and Arafat met at the White House, and Arafat told Clinton, according to Ben-Ami: "'I accept your ideas,' but and then he proceeded to tick off a number of reservations, each of which completely vitiated those ideas. He never formally said no, but his yes was a no." (Ben Ami, Scars of War, Wounds of Peace, p. 273). Both Ross and Clinton felt that Arafat's reservations were outside the Clinton parameters, and Ross describes them as "deal killers." (Ross, p. 756) Ross reports that Arafat rejected "the Western Wall part of the formula on the Haram...the most basic elements of the Israeli security needs...and our refugee formula." Ben-Ami describes the Clinton proposal as representing "the outer limits of our capacity for compromise as Israelis and as Jews." (Ben-Ami, p. 276) Clinton reminds us that nearly a year after he had left office, "Arafat said he was ready to negotiate on the basis of the parameters" he had presented (Bill Clinton, My Life, p. 944). But Carter is, as Ross says, flat-out wrong when he claims that Barak, like Arafat, did not accept the Clinton ideas.

Carter, who should know better from his own experience as a negotiator at Camp David, ignores the fact that Clinton never asked Arafat or Barak to accept his plan unconditionally. Arafat was not obliged to accept its terms and risk his survival, as Carter suggests, misappropriating a line Arafat used at Camp David about an earlier proposal. In December 2000, Clinton simply asked both leaders to accept his plan as a basis for further negotiations towards a peace treaty.
7. Carter Does Not Call for an Unconditional End to Palestinian Suicide Bombings and Terrorism; Palestinian Terror Must Stop Only When Israeli Oppression Ends

Despite his well-deserved reputation as a humanitarian and an advocate of peace, Carter, remarkably, does not call for an unconditional end to Palestinian "suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism." (p. 213) Instead he says that "It is imperative that the general Arab community and all significant Palestinian groups make it clear that they will end suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism when international laws and the ultimate goals of the Roadmap for Peace are accepted by Israel." In short--forget about Palestinian confidence-, trust- or peace-building measures. Carter does not require the Palestinians to declare an end to suicide bombings until Israel stops "oppressing them." To be sure, Carter does condemn suicide bombings as morally reprehensible and politically counterproductive for the Palestinians. But he is not prepared to demand a cessation of such heinous acts, which are war crimes, until Israel ends its own violations. Carter's position however is itself in violation of the laws of war, which do not permit one party to commit war crimes on the grounds that the other party is already committing them, or in response to political injustice. Under international humanitarian law, both sides have an independent and unconditional duty to refrain from breaches of the laws of war. But Carter can't bring himself to place any such expectation on the poor, victimized Palestinians, who can keep massacring Israeli children until Israel commits to stopping its evil apartheid oppression in the West Bank and Gaza. When it comes to human rights and peace, Carter grades the Palestinians on a curve.

There are also errors of omission in Carter's book which are invariably biased against Israel. For example, Carter's chronology omits any mention of the firing of more than 600 rockets by Palestinian militants into Sderot and southern Israel during the months between Israel's Gaza disengagement and the abduction of Gilad Shalit. In describing Hezbollah's acts of aggression on July 12, 2006 which prompted Israel's military operation in Lebanon, Carter completely omits mention of the dozens of rockets that Hezbollah fired on Israeli civilian communities in the northern Galilee as a diversion from its ambush on the Israeli soldiers. He shows no understanding for Israel's justified claim that the Lebanese government bore responsibility for permitting Hezbollah attacks on Israel from its sovereign territory: "Surprisingly, [Israel] declared that it had been assaulted by the entire nation of Lebanon, and launched an aerial bombardment that eventually included 7,000 targets throughout the country." (p. 201) Surprisingly? Here again, international law favored Israel, but Carter will have none of it. Israel, for Carter, is always in the wrong, ever the serial violator of international laws and human rights.

8. Carter Misrepresents Hamas as Having Accepted a Two-State Solution, International Law, and Peace with Israel in the Prisoners' Document

Carter claims that the famous Palestinian Prisoners' National Reconciliation Document "endorsed a two-state proposal". He says that "the prisoners' proposal called for...acceptance of Israel as a neighbor within its legal borders. It endorsed the key UN resolutions regarding legal borders..." (p. 214) This too is pure fantasy on Carter's part. As anyone who bothered to read the prisoners' document knows, it did nothing of the kind--it did not so much as mention Israel let alone recognize it or UN Resolution 242 or the Arab League Peace Proposal. Hamas has made repeated statements denying that its willingness to accept a Palestinian state in all of the West Bank and Gaza, as called for in this document, was tantamount to a readiness to make peace with Israel or recognize it. But Carter ignores these inconvenient facts. Because the Palestinians, including those nice religious Hamas boys, are the good guys, and must always be given the benefit of the doubt, even when they publicly deny that they mean what Carter wishfully ascribes to them.

Here is Americans for Peace Now's analysis of the prisoners' document on this crucial point: "On the question of recognizing Israel , the Prisoners' Document states that Palestinians have the 'right to self-determination, including the right to establish their independent state with al-Quds al-Shareef as its capital in all territories occupied in 1967.' Fatah activists point to this statement as a victory for moderation, since it could be interpreted as Hamas implicitly recognizing Israel's right to exist inside the Green Line.

"However, in the introduction of the revised document—which the paper says must be considered as part of the whole initiative—it is stated that the document is being put forth 'on the basis of no recognition of the legitimacy of occupation.' Given that Hamas has considered all of Israel to be occupied territory, in addition to the West Bank and Gaza, it's unclear that the moderates have achieved any sort of compromise on this matter from Hamas. Ha'aretz correspondent Zvi Bar'el pointed out that the phrasing 'could either mean the Israeli occupation of the territories or the 'Zionist occupation of all of Palestine.'' Indeed, one Hamas legislator, Salah al-Bardawil, told Reuters, 'We said we accept a state in 1967—but we did not say we accept two states.'

"Along the same line, another section of the document says that the PA 'is committed to the Arab consensus and to joint Arab action.' Fatah leaders point to these words as indicating that Hamas has now agreed to the Arab League proposal adopted in Beirut , which offers pan-Arab recognition of Israel in return for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. Therefore, they argue, this is another example of Hamas implicitly recognizing Israel. But the document goes on to say that the PA is committed to such action 'that supports our just cause and the higher Arab interests,' a vague qualifier that could allow Hamas to say that it has not agreed to the Arab League peace proposal." That indeed is what Hamas proceeded to say about the Prisoners' Document, denying that they had accepted the Arab League Peace Proposal. But Carter ignores all of this well-established recent history. It gets in the way of his good Palestinian/bad Israeli morality tale.

9. Carter Misstates What UN Resolutions and International Peace Plans Say About the 1967 Borders

Another misrepresentation in the book which has been noted by others is Carter's belief that "Withdrawal to the 1967 border [is] specified in UN Resolution 242 and ...promised in the Camp David Accords and the Olso Agreement and prescribed in the Roadmap of the International Quartet." Again, this is pure fantasy and willful misreading of key documents. It is widely known that UN Resolution 242 omitted the definite article in its English version, referring to "occupied territories" so as not to imply that Israel would be required to make a complete withdrawal to the 1967 borders in exchange for peace. Moreover, the resolution called for an eventual Israeli withdrawal to "secure and recognized borders" in exchange for peace, which would be the outcome of negotiations, not simply a restoration of the pre-war status quo ante. The Oslo Accords actually say nothing about what the final borders will be, and the Roadmap's call for a final peace treaty that will "end the occupation which began in 1967" does not mean that the withdrawal will be to the 1967 boundaries. In a final peace accord in which the parties agree to define the final borders, the parties will agree that the occupation which began in 1967 has ended. But those borders will not be identical to the 1967 lines. And Carter knows this: he talks of "mutually agreeable exchanges of land, perhaps permitting significant numbers of Israeli settlers to remain in their present homes near Jerusalem." Carter chose his words carelessly here, in ways that are meant to impose his political preferences onto key documents. He's not wrong on the big picture--the 1967 borders must be the basis for a negotiated land swap--but he fudges important details.

10. Carter's Systematic Bias Against Israel: Blame Israel First and Last

Time and time again Carter identifies Israel as the primary cause of the conflict--it's refusal to accept the Road Map, its "colonizing the internationally recognized Palestinian territory" (p. 162). There can only be peace once Israel reverses these immoral and illegal policies, and once the Palestinians then respond "by accepting Israel's right to exist, free of violence." (162) The Palestinians have no burden to initiate peace with Israel, to accept its legitimacy, as Hamas has refused to do, or to demonstrate nonviolence and a commitment to a sustained truce, during which Israelis and Palestinians would have the opportunity to negotiate in a favorable atmosphere. The onus, for Carter, falls exclusively on Israel. And nothing Israel does is legitimately motivated by Palestinian terror and rejectionism, always a mere epiphenomenon that will evaporate with the disappearance of Israel's colonial, expansionist segregation regime imposed on blameless Palestinian victims.

The book concludes with the same one-sided blame-Israel-only dissonant refrain that sullies it throughout: "The bottom line is this: 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." After Israel solves the problem for which it is solely responsible, then "all Arab neighbors must pledge to honor Israel's right to live in peace under these conditions." (p. 216) The onus to make peace falls solely on Israel; when it ends its oppressive behavior, then the good, innocent and noble Palestinians and Arabs will have to make some lovely pledges in a treaty. Carter places no other demands on them. Palestinian militants can continue to wage terror against Israeli civilians until Israel mends its evil ways. Palestinians, for Carter, bear no responsibility for initiating the conditions necessary for successful peacemaking. After all, they are the hapless and helpless victims of the Israeli iron fist; how can one expect anything of them?

Carter believes that the US must play the role of an honest broker trusted by both parties to the conflict. But Carter's inveterate anti-Israel bias is as unhelpful to Israel's quest for peace and security as the unconditional “pro-Israeli” bias of George W. Bush. Once a great Mideast peacemaker, Jimmy Carter has become a two-bit Palevangelist and propagandist.

Gidon D. Remba is co-author of the forthcoming The Great Rift: Arab-Israeli War and Peace in the New Middle East. His commentary is available at He served as senior foreign press editor and translator in the Israel Prime Minister’s Office during the Egyptian-Israeli peace process from 1977-1978. His essays have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the New York Times, the Nation, the Jerusalem Report, Ha’aretz, Tikkun, the Forward, the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, Chicago Jewish News, JUF News, and the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Settlements: Israel's March of Folly, Gidon D. Remba

Settlements: Israel’s March of Folly

By Gidon D. Remba

Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle

Revised December 8, 2006

A generation ago, Daniel Ellsberg, a former US government official, leaked to the New York Times a top secret report that became known as the Pentagon Papers. The Papers revealed that the Johnson Administration had misled the American public when it promised not to expand the Vietnam war. They uncovered the true scope of the growing US entanglement, from Truman to Kennedy and beyond, in what the government knew was an unwinnable war. The Nixon Administration sought an injunction to stop the study’s publication by the Times and the Washington Post, claiming that further dissemination would cause “irreparable harm” to US national security interests. The Pentagon Papers became a perfect storm that helped turn the rising tide of public opposition to the Vietnam war into a tsunami. Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, one of the war’s chief architects, eventually admitted that American policy was fundamentally mistaken.

Proving that history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce, an Israeli government official has leaked a treasure trove of secret data to Peace Now in Israel documenting systematic violations of Israeli law in the West Bank by successive Israeli governments over the last thirty-five years. The government had refused to accede to repeated requests by Peace Now filed under Israel’s Freedom of Information Act. It responded to a court petition with the claim that the data dealt with “a most sensitive issue” affecting the “security and foreign relations of the State of Israel.”

Facing continued government stonewalling and refusal to make the data public, Peace Now recently decided to release a groundbreaking report about Israel’s West Bank settlements which garnered front page coverage in the New York Times, capturing headlines in Israel and around the world. Titled “Breaking the Law in the West Bank: One Violation Leads to Another,” the study showed that 39 percent of the land in Israeli settlements and outposts in the West Bank is privately owned by Palestinians. According to the report, the State of Israel, under the sway of the settlement movement, has violated Israel’s own Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom and Supreme Court rulings by “confiscating private Palestinian property and building settlements on them.” While Israeli officials have long insisted that settlements were built only on state land, the report shows that the government has been misleading the Israeli public and the world. Peace Now has submitted a formal complaint to Israel’s Attorney General. The government is studying the group’s findings.

The settlers and their sympathizers lost no time before attempting to discredit the study and its authors. A spokesperson for the Yesha Settlers’ Council charged that the report was “just another lie to attack the settlement movement,” and that, “in Peace Now's war against the Jews, everything is kosher.” Another veteran settler leader said, “they merely want to weaken us and the State of Israel.”

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” responded Peace Now. The group’s efforts to “reverse West Bank settlement growth are aimed at securing Israel's long-term survival as a Jewish and democratic state. Peace Now tracks and reports on West Bank settlements because they create points of friction with Palestinians, burden Israel's security forces, drain its economy, and complicate the possibility of a two-state solution.” Dissent—especially from the follies of leaders of a country we cherish—is often the highest form of patriotism. The ancient rabbis taught that “Love unaccompanied by criticism is not love.” So too with amor patriae, love of country.

Other critics caviled that Peace Now’s definition of “private land” was flawed and that the land used by Israel to build settlements is in fact public “state” land. But they are attacking a straw man: it was not Peace Now that declared the land privately owned by Palestinians. It was deemed private by Israel’s own land registry and its Civil Administration for the West Bank. Moreover, Israel’s State Comptroller also issued his own sharp report documenting the construction of an Israeli industrial area on privately-owned Palestinian land in the West Bank, a violation of Israeli law which he described as both severe and far from exceptional, pointing to the existence of many other similar transgressions.

Objections raised to the Peace Now report by settlers and their allies obscure the larger problem facing Israel. Israeli leaders, including many who spearheaded the construction of the settlements in decades past, from Ariel Sharon to Ehud Olmert, have come to recognize that the ground has shifted and that Israel must, for its own sake, dramatically reverse course.

As just as it is in principle, the Jewish historical and moral claim to the entire Land of Israel, historic Palestine, has in practice fueled a four-decades long settlement juggernaut which is now widely seen by Israelis of nearly all political stripes as threatening Israel’s existence and the entire Zionist enterprise. Echoing the post-1967 warnings of Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion, then-Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was among the first to say in December 2003 that permitting most settlements to remain in the West Bank “will lead to the loss of Israel as a democratic Jewish state.” The settlements and the military occupation which supports them have transformed Israel, in Olmert’s words, into a country “that controls a large population under conditions of inequality.” If it fails to remedy this situation, warned Olmert, Israel will become a “pariah state.”

The proliferation of Jewish communities throughout areas where several million Palestinians seek self-determination has obstructed a two-state solution to the conflict, precisely as intended by their architects. Every U.S. administration for over twenty-five years, both Republican and Democrat, has viewed the settlements as an obstacle to peace. President Ronald Reagan said in 1982 that “further settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel and only diminishes the confidence of the Arabs that a final outcome can be freely and fairly negotiated.” Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice reiterated in November 2005 that “settlement activity is counter both to US policy and…to the obligations that the Israelis have undertaken. We’ve been very clear that there should be no activities that prejudge a final status agreement.”

Israel Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Moshe Ya’alon echoed the views of many in Israel’s top brass when in 2004 he acknowledged that “the settlements, far from serving a security purpose, were a security burden [to Israel].” He also blamed the settlements—and the military presence their defense requires—for “exacerbating the tension between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Historian Barbara Tuchman defined folly as the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests, despite the availability of viable alternatives. The current Israeli government was elected to perform life-saving surgery for Israel’s survival. The Lebanon and Gaza wars deflected Prime Minister Olmert from his plan to disentangle Israel from the lion’s share of the West Bank, making way for a Palestinian state in provisional borders. But for the US to enlist moderate Sunni Arab countries to help stabilize Iraq, and face Iran from a position of greater strength, Israelis and Palestinians will need to take a giant leap forward, as the Baker-Hamilton report urges.

Now Olmert has announced that once the Palestinian Authority meets the Quartet’s conditions—recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and accepting past agreements—Israel is prepared to agree to “an independent and viable Palestinian state, with territorial contiguity and full sovereignty” in the West Bank and Gaza, evacuating “many territories and communities.” The writing is on the wall: Israel must soon gather the will for a negotiated withdrawal, lest history repeat itself again as tragedy.

Gidon D. Remba is co-author of the forthcoming The Great Rift: Arab-Israeli War and Peace in the New Middle East. His commentary is available at He served as senior foreign press editor and translator in the Israel Prime Minister’s Office during the Egyptian-Israeli peace process from 1977-1978. His essays have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the New York Times, the Nation, the Jerusalem Report, Ha’aretz, Tikkun, the Forward, and other periodicals.