Outlining steps that ought to be taken for Palestinians and Israelis to share the Holy Land devoid of a system of apartheid and the constant fear of ‘terrorist’ attacks, is the book’s declared objective. And Carter does not mince his words when he asserts that Israel’s refusal to fully withdraw from the Occupied Territories is the main obstacle to a settlement. A glance through the last few pages of the book are sufficient to learn of the author’s three most basic premises for peace: Israel’s right to exist within recognized borders accepted by Palestinians and all other neighbors, a halt to acts of violence against civilians and the necessity for Palestinians to live in peace and dignity in their own land as specified by international law, unless modified by good-faith negotiations with Israel.
But it would indeed be a great pity if the reader limited him/herself to the two last pages, for the author has been very clever and skillful in building up his case. Contrary to his stated objective, the prescription for peace is in fact not the goal, but rather pricking the abscess is what is at stake.
Apart from the controversial title, the word apartheid does not resurface till relatively late in the chapter on the separation wall, or the ‘imprisonment wall’ as Carter emphasizes is a more accurate description than ‘security fence’. Absent it may be, yet apartheid is the omnipresent thread running throughout the various chapters reviewing the Oslo agreement, the Camp David summit in 2000, the subsequent Clinton parameters, the road map, the Geneva Initiative of 2003, Sharon’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza, the legislative elections won by Hamas, the war in Lebanon and finally the deteriorating situation in Gaza. One page after the other, Carter skillfully introduces the intrinsic details of daily life under occupation in Palestine unraveling the essence of an apartheid system beyond scholarly definitions and philosophical interpretations.
It is no coincidence that a strong emphasis is placed on the use of the term ‘Holy Land’ in the first chapter. Carter dwells on his biblical affiliation with Jerusalem and dedicates considerable space to narrating his impressions from his first trip to the holy sites in Palestine in the early 1970s. By the end of the chapter, the average American reader imbued with a Judeo-Christian affinity with Palestine as a holy land has warmed to Carter and is indeed ready to receive what the following chapters are about to say.
The realities of living under occupation in Palestine come in a flashing sequence of simple narrative: Truckloads of ‘Palestinian’ oranges held by the Israeli army till they rot and their owner matter-of-fatly giving away the spoil fruit for livestock feed. A family describing to the author how their home was demolished by Israeli bulldozers and dynamite. Doctors pointing at idle ambulances donated by the European Union, left to bask in the sun, denied a license. Some of the most powerful pages describe the voting process in East Jerusalem and the systematic intimidating measures imposed by Israeli authorities on the voters. And even though Carter – who was an observer to the elections in 2006- hails the clean elections leading to Hamas’ victory, he does not hide his condemnation of the suicide bombing policy of the movement. Nevertheless, the author painstakingly delineates why some Palestinians may consider this as an option to resist occupation.
Likewise, settlements in the reader’s psyche change from being leafy compounds perched on hills, welcoming New Yorkers wishing to fulfill their dreams of living in the Holy Land, to an image of how the West Bank is sliced into three Bantustan-like parts where 200 Jewish-only settlements are mostly erected on confiscated Palestinian land. For the safety and convenience of some 187,000 settlers, about 2,460,000 Palestinians in the West Bank suffer considerable restriction of movement imposed by a rigid permit system enforced by 520 checkpoints and roadblocks.
Interestingly, the many reviews flooding the press of the world have either emphasized the much welcome truth of the grim situation of occupation in Palestine or Carter’s ‘biased’ position towards Palestinians. None or few have dwelt on the peace blueprint Carter proposes. Several observations are worthy of noting.
From the very beginning he emphasizes international law as a basis for solving the conflict. Yet he fails to explain what international law is in more concrete terms, a term spanning a wide variety of norms, principles and issues ranging from relevant United Nations resolutions, state responsibility, reparations to self-determination - just to name a few. Carter also declares a penchant for Security Council resolution 242 of 1967 and keeps mute on General Assembly resolution 194 of 1948. He may have wanted to avoid delving into the Palestinian refugee problem. With one of three refugees in the world being Palestinian, Carter may have deemed it ‘easier’ to shun from discussing UN Resolution 194 calling for the right of return, compensation and restitution of property. In fact, the refugee problem is so strikingly trivialized throughout the book that it is almost unperceived. One wonders how peace can be discussed without a mention of the fate of over 5 million Palestinian refugees.
From another angle, the only US president to have succeeded in brokering a peace agreement within the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict offers surprisingly little on his insights into bridging gaps between conflicting parties. We are told nothing about the lessons learnt from negotiating Camp David between Egypt and Israel in 1978. Nor do we find resonance of the wealth of experience accumulated throughout a presidency of a superpower and a conflict resolution center dealing with conflicts throughout the globe.
Palestine Peace Not Apartheid is not an authoritative analytical view on the conflict nor does it innovate on the solution front. What Carter succeeds in doing is shake up Americans slumbering under George Bush’s interpretation of the world and a media confusing its readers over who is fighting over what in Palestine. More importantly, for the many who have not read the book, debating realities of Israeli occupation of Palestine is very much on the menu of the written and visual media. Jimmy Carter is indeed paying his tribute to the Holy Land.
Shahira Samy (PhD) is a lecturer in Political Science at the British University in Egypt. She specializes in the field of reparations and historical injustice, Palestinian refugees, displacement and the Arab-Israeli Conflict.