Book Review: Palestine by Jimmy Carter

by Editors


Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter. (Simon and Schuster, 2006)

Reviewed by Brian Bicknell

Jimmy Carter, the country’s 39th president, has not left the office to retire to his Indiana farm to grow peanuts and watch time go by. He has been engaged in both domestic and world affairs, primarily through his Carter Center, an organization created to prevent and resolve conflict and enhance freedom and democracy.

President Carter’s latest project is a book titled, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. The book is designed to be challenging, provocative, and courageous. In this effort, the former president is three for three.

In putting the current situation in the broader Middle East, President Carter writes:

“Most chilling of all, could the festering differences precipitate a military confrontation involving the use of nuclear weapons? It is known that Israel has a major nuclear arsenal and the capability to launch weapons quickly, and some neighboring states are believed to be attempting to acquire their own atomic bombs. Without progress toward peace, desperation or adventurism on either side could precipitate such a confrontation” (p. 12).”

Here, the former president raises the stakes for understanding the current situation and, more importantly, for finding a peaceful resolution to these “festering differences.”

Carter points out that the desire of some Israelis to live in Palestinian land, the refusal of some Arabs to recognize Israel’s existence (or right to exist), the absence of an authoritive Palestinian voice, the rise in Islamic fundamentalism, the lack of effort by the United States, and the refusal of the Israelis and Palestinians to engage in talks without onerous preconditions, have led to significant challenges in bringing peace between the two peoples.

Optimistically, however, Carter points out that most of the people in the area, including the Syrians and Lebanese, want the peace efforts to succeed. So, then, what is his proposal?

The president points out that in the Camp David Accords, which was signed in 1978 by both Sadat and Begin and ratified by both governments, reconfirmed the commitments to honor U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338. These prohibit the acquisition of land by force and call for Israel’s withdrawal from occupied territories.

One interesting note that Carter reveals, which this reviewer was unaware of, was that while the Palestinians and other Arabs spoke out loudly against Israel’s expansion on to what they considered their territory, it wasn’t until Israel announced, in 1964, that it was planning to divert water from the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River to irrigate both the Negev desert and western Israel, that the Palestinian Liberation Organization was formed. While Carter doesn’t follow up on this important detail, as a reader, it is tough to let this go. How could things have been handled differently? Would it possibly have led to different, more peaceful, outcomes in that area of the world?

Why is this book so controversial?

Carter states,

“The key to the future of Israel will not be found outside the country but within…judgments will be made in Jerusalem, through democratic processes involving all Israelis who can express their views and elect their leaders…The outcome of this debate will shape the future of Israel: it may also determine the prospects for peace in the Middle East – and perhaps the world” (p. 69).

This is an outrageous statement, as it asserts that outside actors have little influence on Israel and that that country’s decisions alone will shape its future, peace in the Middle East, and maybe the world. It argues that the problem in the Middle East is due to Israel’s policies. Throughout the book, Carter looks at the dilemma in this territory through the lens of the Palestinians, at the expense of the Israelis. So here Israel sits, surrounded by millions of people who don’t think it has the right to exist, and the former president of the United States is suggesting that the key to peace lies with decisions made by Israelis. It also downplays the influence its Arab neighbors play in reaching a peaceful settlement or the continuation of war and terrorism.

Despite President Carter’s Palestinian-leaning perspective, what he puts forth for a peaceful solution is not at all provocative. His suggestion for a peaceful settlement for the future is consistent with “the 1974 Israeli Syrian withdrawal agreement, the 1978 Camp David Accords (which he mediated), the Reagan statement of 1982, the 1993 Oslo Agreement, the treaty between Israel and Jordan in 1994, the Arab peace proposal of 2002, the 2003 Geneva Initiative, and the International Quartet’s Roadmap” (p. 205). These initiatives are also consistent with U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338. Interestingly, Carter points out that the Geneva Initiative, which lays out an agreement for a two state solution, based on the 1967 borders, has a majority approval rating with both Israelis and Palestinians, but not from some top political leaders.

By the end of the book one gets the sense that the solution is fairly obvious. It is what many people have been advocating for years and is agreed to by the people in the Middle East, even though it has not happened because of political power struggles.

In the summary chapter Carter writes, “As I said in a 1979 speech to the Israeli Knesset, ‘The people support a settlement. Political leaders are the obstacles to peace.”


Brian Bicknell is a Bread and Circus Magazine contributing writer.