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Book review: 'Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid' by Jimmy Carter

Half the story is too much for pro-U.S., pro-Israel apologists

Ex-president Jimmy Carter’s new book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," released just after the November 2006 election, has caused a big stir. Carter has been on just about every mainstream television talk show. Book-signing events have drawn largely sympathetic audiences as large as 2,000 people.

The controversy over the subject is unprecedented in the United States, raging on months after publication. Pro-Israel

organizations, politicians, academics and media have gone ballistic about the book and its author. Charges of "anti-Semitism"—the routine response to anyone in the United States who criticizes Israel—have been leveled at Carter. There have been spurious allegations that he "plagiarized maps" showing earlier proposed agreements put forward by the U.S. and Israeli governments. A major campaign is underway to discredit and marginalize the former president.

Carter’s great sin, from much of the ruling establishment’s point of view, is that he has pulled back the curtain on a subject generally treated as taboo in this country: the systematic and colonial oppression of the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli state.

The brutal reality of occupation and the abuse of the population in the West Bank and Gaza is only really touched on in the book—particularly in the chapter titled "The Wall as Prison"—but that it is discussed at all is a departure for an author of Carter’s mainstream standing. This reality is something that the whole world knows about. It is only in the United States and Israel that the undeniable is denied.

What has really gotten under the skin of Israel’s leaders and defenders is the word "apartheid" in the book’s title. Apartheid was the form of institutionalized racist rule practiced in South Africa for many decades. Its literal translation is "apartness." Carter uses the term to describe conditions in Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Under apartheid, all people in South Africa were categorized as either "White," "Colored," "Indian" or "Black" in their identification papers. While apartheid supposedly provided rights for all three groups, it was a system of legalized white supremacy, much like the "separate but equal" Jim Crow system in the United States. Both the openly racist South African and U.S. systems—like Israel’s reign over the Palestinians today—were enforced by legal and extra-legal forms of terrorist violence against the oppressed.

It is not just the negative association with the hated South African apartheid system that has so upset Israel’s supporters. Apartheid is an international crime. The International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid was ratified and became international law on Nov. 30, 1973.

Apartheid in Palestine

That an apartheid system exists today in Palestine is beyond question. Anyone who travels to the West Bank and Gaza immediately confronts the blatant suppression of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation. Occupation and its attendant racist practices permeate every aspect of life.

In the West Bank, the 300,000 or so illegal Israeli settlers live in relative luxury, with their own separate modern housing, roads, schools, and hospitals. The 2 million Palestinians live under harsh military occupation, however. Their cities, towns and villages are isolated from each other by hundreds of Israeli military checkpoints. The Israeli apartheid wall has in effect annexed large chunks of Palestinian land to Israel and separated many Palestinian villagers from their farmlands, schools and jobs.

The killing and wounding of Palestinians by the Israeli occupation forces is a daily occurrence. More than 10,000 Palestinians are being held in violation of international law inside Israeli prisons. Torture of Palestinian detainees and prisoners by the Israeli police is commonplace, as are home demolitions.

The annual per capita income for Israelis has risen to around $18,000. For Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, it has fallen to $1,200.

In addition to the tens of thousands of Israeli occupation troops, armed settlers constitute a Ku Klux Klan-like paramilitary force. They are allowed to attack and harass the Palestinian population with impunity. Yet, it is only the Palestinian resistance to occupation and illegal settlement that is labeled as "terrorism" by U.S. and Israeli corporate media outlets.

To paraphrase racist Chief Justice Roger B. Taney in the Supreme Court’s infamous 1856 Dred Scott v. Sanford Fugitive Slave Law decision, "Palestinians have no rights that Israelis are bound to respect."

The lowest-ranking Israeli soldier can detain, question and abuse the highest ranking Palestinian official. Just last month, Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniyeh was detained for many hours by the Israeli army upon returning to Gaza from Egypt.

Ex-Israeli minister: ‘There is apartheid in Israel’

Former Israeli education minister Shulamit Aloni wrote a Jan. 9, 2007, opinion piece in Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s largest


A Palestinian family walks beside the apartheid wall constructed by Israel on Palestinian land.

circulation newspaper. It was entitled, "There is apartheid in Israel." Interestingly, her column was posted on the newspaper’s Hebrew website, but not on its English-language site.

Aloni describes the "Jewish only" roads in the West Bank: "Wonderful roads, wide roads, well-paved roads, brightly lit at night—all that on stolen [Palestinian] land. When a Palestinian drives on such a road, his vehicle is confiscated and he is sent on his way."

She goes on to recount an incident she witnessed between a Palestinian stopped for driving on one such segregated road and an Israeli occupation soldier. Aloni asked the soldier why he is confiscating the Palestinian’s car. The soldier replied, "It’s an order—this is a Jews-only road."

Aloni continued, "I inquired as to where was the sign indicating this fact and instructing [other] drivers not to use it. His answer was nothing short of amazing. ‘It is his responsibility to know it, and besides, what do you want us to do, put up a sign here and let some anti-Semitic reporter or journalist take a photo so he that can show the world that Apartheid exists here?’"

It’s not just the occupied territories …

Carter has fervently denied that he is referring to pre-1967 Israel when he uses the explosive word "apartheid." He defends Israel—although Israel, in fact, has been a racist and apartheid-style state since its formation in 1948.

Palestinians, who comprise over 20 percent of the population inside the 1948 borders, are allowed to vote in Israeli elections. But in every other respect—from jobs, to benefits, to marriage and other civil, national and economic rights—they are treated as third-class citizens. It is virtually impossible for Palestinians—who are technically citizens of the Israeli state—to buy or lease land.

The foundation of Israel’s apartheid system is grounded in who has the right to live inside the pre-1967 borders and who does not. Nothing is more fundamental than this issue. Here, the apartheid character of Israel is indisputable.

Israel’s basic law defines the country as a "state of the Jewish people." The law accords the "right of return" to any Jewish person living anywhere in the world. The overwhelming majority of Jewish people have lived outside of Palestine for nearly 20 centuries.

At the same time, Israel has blocked the return of the 750,000 Palestinians driven out of their homeland in 1948-49 and their more than 5 million descendants. Their homes, farms, orchards, shops and other property were seized without compensation. They have been denied the right of return despite scores of United Nations resolutions upholding that right.

Jimmy Carter: myth and reality

The popular impact of his book has been amplified by Carter’s undeserved reputation as an international champion of "human rights."

In fact, during his 1977-81 presidency and since, Carter has invariably sought to promote U.S. imperialist interests


Protest in solidarity with Palestine, July 2006.
Photo: Bill Hackwell

around the world. His often-sharp differences with the Reagan and Bush II administrations have had to do with both style and strategy, but not overall goals.

Carter is best known as the broker of the 1978 Camp David Treaty. For this, he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel. The agreement had the effect of taking Egypt, the largest Arab country, out of the Arab camp and pulling it firmly into the U.S. orbit.

Rather than achieving peace, it paved the way for Israel’s devastating 1982 invasion and 18-year occupation of Lebanon, which took tens of thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian lives. No other Arab country had the power to challenge Israel’s U.S.-funded and supplied military.

Also in 1978, the Carter administration did everything in its power to help the murderous Shah crush the Iranian Revolution. Tens of thousands of Iranians were slaughtered in the streets with U.S.-supplied weapons. But the hated regime could not endure.

On his way out of office in 1980-81, Carter sent weapons and trainers to bolster the death squad regime in El Salvador against another popular uprising, an effort continued and greatly expanded under Reagan. Carter and national security advisor Zbignew Brzezinski played key roles in launching the Contra war against the revolution in Afghanistan.

Carter’s efforts in service to the empire did not end with his departure from public office. He has been the leader of several election observer missions to other countries and is widely viewed as a "neutral" and "objective" arbiter.

But this image is far from the truth. This was revealed by Carter himself in 1993. At a press conference in support of the North American Free Trade Agreement held on the White House lawn, Carter remarked on previous "bipartisan achievements." He stated, "Together we removed the Sandinistas from power in Nicaragua."

The former president was the head of the international group observing the February 1990 Nicaraguan elections, in which the U.S.-backed right-wing party narrowly defeated the Sandinistas. This came after years of U.S. military and economic war against the small impoverished country.

It is precisely Carter’s loyalty and service to U.S. foreign policy that has caused much of the establishment media to cast Carter in the semi-saintly glow—up until now. That glow has added weight to his current criticisms of Israel

Criticisms of Israel

Carter does not hold back in criticizing the Palestinians, but he assigns the main blame for the failure to reach a "peace accord" to Israel. Bipartisan support for Israel inside the United States has been nearly monolithic, mainly due to Israel’s vital military role in U.S. global strategy.

What Carter sees as the most desirable outcome is a "two-state" solution. In other words, he prefers a demilitarized and weak Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza—22 percent of historic Palestine. These non-contiguous territories would stand next to Israel, one of the world’s leading military powers, which would retain 78 percent of the land.

The more than 6 million Palestinian refugees living both inside and outside Palestine would be allowed to return only to the West Bank and Gaza, not to their homes and lands inside the 1948 borders of Israel. This can hardly be considered justice. But as Carter’s book states, successive Israeli governments have blocked even this one-sided arrangement from being implemented.

One of the most useful sections of the book is Appendix 7, the Israel government’s official response to the proposed 2003 "Roadmap to Peace." It offers a rare glimpse into the real outlook of the Israeli leaders in all of their raw colonialist arrogance.

As preconditions for any negotiations, Israel demands "absolute quiet"—on the Palestinian side only—and "the emergence of a new and different leadership in the Palestinian Authority." This stance—that the bargaining position of one side starts with the requirement that the other side replace its leadership—is a highly unusual stance in international relations.

The demand for "absolute quiet" on the Palestinian side is combined with another precondition. "In the first phase of the plan, and as a condition for progress to the second phase, the Palestinians will complete the dismantling of terrorist (sic) organizations (Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front, the Democratic Front, Al-Aqsa Brigades and other apparatuses) and their infrastructure, collection of all illegal weapons and their transfer to a third party for the sake of being removed from the area and destroyed, cessation of weapons smuggling and weapons production inside the Palestinian Authority, activation of the full prevention apparatus and cessation of incitement. There will be no progress to the second phase without the fulfillment of all above-mentioned conditions."

So, the Palestinians must dismantle all the resistance organizations—their civilian as well as military wings. They are to completely disarm and even stop saying negative things about the Israeli occupation. Meanwhile, the occupation will continue in all of its unchecked brutality, the Israeli army will keep conducting its raids, the armed settlers will roam the countryside, and so on.

In other words, the Palestinians must surrender before the Israeli government will agree just to talk to them. And how will the Palestinians be "rewarded" if they bow down?

Paragraph 5 states: "The provisional [Palestinian] state will have provisional borders and certain aspects of


Map of historic Palestine in 1946, before the founding of the colonial, settler state of Israel.

sovereignty, be fully demilitarized with no military forces … be without the authority to undertake defense alliances or military cooperation, and Israeli control over the entry and exit of all persons and cargo, as well as of its air space and electromagnetic spectrum." The phrase "certain aspects of sovereignty" has a one-word translation—colony.

In Paragraph 6, the Israeli government demands "the waiver of any right of return for Palestinian refugees to the State of Israel."

Struggle in U.S. ruling circles

Carter’s book has come out at a time of deepening conflict within the U.S. ruling establishment over Middle East policy. The conflict is, above all, a result of the failed war in Iraq and the inability of the Bush administration and its neo-conservative managers to achieve what they had promised in the region—pacification and stability. The Middle East’s vast oil resources and its strategic position make dominating the region vital to U.S. imperialism.

The Carter, Bush I and Clinton administrations attempted to impose—through the typical diplomatic mix of negotiations, bribes and threats—an accord that would lead to the liquidation of the Palestinian liberation movement. Neutralizing the Palestinian struggle was understood by the policymakers of those earlier administrations as a key element in realizing their aim of defeating the anti-imperialist movements and pacifying the Middle East.

The current Bush administration has adopted a different tactic, relying for the most part on simply crushing all resistance, whether in the form of popular movements or independent governments. So, for nearly the first six years of his administration, George W. Bush never met in person with the president of the Palestinian Authority, although he hosted Israeli prime ministers at the White House more than any other foreign leaders.

The Bush administration policymakers have given nearly unlimited support to Israel, viewing its military power as a key asset in the U.S. drive to dominate the region.

Since 2001, the Bush regime has refrained from any criticism of Israeli actions, no matter how brutal. U.S. leaders encouraged Israel to attack Syria as well as Lebanon during the summer 2006 war. Israel’s role as a vital auxiliary military force is the main reason why U.S. government supports Israel so ardently.

The problem, from the point of view of the ruling class here, is that the "smash ‘em all" strategy hasn’t worked. Instead, the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the Israeli assault on Lebanon, and the continued colonial occupation of Palestine have raised the level of anger, opposition and resistance throughout the region.

Instead of nearing the goal of U.S. global domination, many in the ruling circles see the Bush strategy as having raised the specter of catastrophic defeat. The Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group’s report reflected these fears. It called for the renewal of diplomatic efforts, not only in relation to Iraq, but to Palestine as well. The report described the conflicts in the region as "inextricably linked." The fact that Carter’s book and the ISG report came out within a couple of weeks of each other is hardly coincidental.

For anti-war and other progressive activists, Carter’s book is not important for its liberal imperialist politics, but because it has caused so many more people to think about the issue. It presents the movement with new opportunities to reach out to millions with a clear analysis of Palestinian people’s long resistance to occupation and imperialism.

Click here to read more from the PSL on Palestine.

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