I just finished up “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” by Jimmy Carter. Apparently, some people didn’t like the apartheid part of the title calling it “anti-semitic.” Carter does a good job of providing a narrative account of the modern history of the region although there are a few idiosyncrasies. One is his emphasis on “Christian” issues. I understand he is deeply religious and the backdrop of the region so central to Christian history was important to him, although it causes downright embarrassing exchanges such as this one that he relates on pg 31-32.
Later, in her [Prime Minister Golda Meir] office, I thanked the prime minister for making possible our wonderful visit, and she asked if I had any observations I would like to share. With some hesitation, I said that I had long taught lessons from the Hebrew Scriptures and that a common historical pattern was that Israel was punished whenever the leaders turned away from devout worship of God. I asked if she was concerned about the secular nature of her Labor government. She seemed surprised at my temerity and dismissed my comments with a shrug and a laugh.
It is a question like that which makes me wonder if religion causes brain damage. Carter is talking to the leader of a nation that was founded in response to one of, if not, the worst episode of genocide in history. A people who believed that they were “God’s chosen,” and they were singled out and massacred on an industrial scale. Carter has the audacity to ask a leader of a country which is surrounded by hostile Arab nations on every front except the sea whether she thinks God will punish her and her people for not worshiping enough. I’d laugh too. Did praying help Jews survive the holocaust? If I were a Jew, I wouldn’t put down prayer, but I think this time I would rather have some gunships than God’s supposed favor.
When Carter isn’t unknowingly embarrassing himself, he takes some pages to address his deep concerns over apparent Christian persecution. However, any persecution Christians face is due more to being Palestinian than Christian, and he gives no depth to Islamic concerns. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for universal religious access to Jerusalem too, although it is a lower priority than establishing basic humanitarian needs to the vast majority of the Palestinian people. The other half of the idiosyncrasy of the book is how Carter actually bends over backwards to defend Israel. Even when it is routinely demonstrated, especially more recently, that Israel would rather rule with military might that by rule of international law. As Chomsky puts it, Israel has routinely sacrificed security for expansion.
The basic takeaway from the book is that it confirms Chomsky’s account that can be read in “Failed States.” Peace is possible, but it will require more concessions from Israel than it is currently likely to give. Any lasting peace will have to respect the 1967 borders with some tactical land-swaps. However, the current separation wall, abuses and devastating reprisals will only lead to further conflict in the region.
After Carter, peace in Israel has really been a back burner issue for Republican presidents. Clinton did make some strides, but ultimately they fell short. However, completely laying that at the feet of Palestinians is unfair. And it is clear that the situation has significantly regressed under Bush, although much of it is due to similar political shift in Israel as well.
Interestingly enough, there is a debate between Prof. Alan Dershowitz and Prof. Noam Chomsky on the relevant issues. One thing that I noticed about Dershowitz is his use of incredulity. Why aren’t the Palestinian causalities reported in the mainstream media? The answer is obvious to anyone that observes the media, but to flip it around, why aren’t Iraqi civilian causalities reported in U.S. media? The fact of the matter is, the U.S. media paints a much different picture than what you would get in the rest of the world. For example, if we look at the 2006 Lebanon War. The causalties work out to be around 500 Hezbollah fighters and around 1,200 Lebanese civilians. For Israel, around 120 from the Israel defense force and 43 Israeli civilians. U.S. media tended to emphasize the rocket attacks, world media leaned more towards the Lebanese civilians, which is why there was a huge difference in perception between what the U.S. ended up believing about the Israeli response versus the rest of the world. People in the U.S. tended to think Israel’s response was justified, whereas in the rest of the world people acknowledged Hezbollah’s wrong-doing but thought the Israeli response was so severe it was not justified.