I’ve just finished former President Carter’s new book, Palestine, Peace not Apartheid. The subject is important in the world today. I can understand some of the criticisms it's received. He dwells on the actions of Israel towards the Palestinians while remaining almost completely silent about the terrorist attacks by the Palestinians against Israel.
But I think his basic point about the treatment of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is valid. Everything I’ve read about the settlement movement in the West Bank indicates that the Palestinians are being slowly herded into smaller and smaller zones where their lives are severely constrained. I've never understood the settlements. Israel protecting herself, absolutely yes. But Israel building homes in Palestine, that just seems wrong to me. And in the long run, I don't see how that's going to make Israel safer.
As I see it, if Israel continues to occupy more and more of the West Bank, they’ll be more and more connected to the Palestinians stuck away in the small residual areas Israel leaves them. Then as we saw in South Africa, at some point the Palestinians will gain equality and the vote in the new, larger Israel that Israel is creating. At that point Israel could cease to be a Jewish state since the Palestinians may very well outnumber the Jews in this larger Israel.
I found the book readable, but short of present day solutions. Much of it focuses on past history. As I read chapter after chapter of his personal experiences in the 70’s and 80’s, I felt myself wanting to get to the current situation. The history is important to our understanding of how the present problems in the region came about. But I think he could have covered this in fewer pages than he does. And certainly with fewer little travelog-esque asides about the sightseeing trips he and his wife took during his visits to the area.
Then at the end, I was looking for more solutions. Yes, his final chapter includes an important outline of what’s needed to achieve peace in the region. I think it’s best summed up by his quote from Jonathan Kuttab, a Palestinian human rights lawyer. (An interesting thinker, you can find some of his articles here.)
“Everybody knows what it will take to achieve a permanent and lasting peace that addresses the basic interests of both sides: It’s a two-state solution. It’s withdrawal to 1967 borders. It’s dismantlement of the settlements. It’s some kind of shared status for a united Jerusalem, the capital of both parties. The West Bank and Gaza would have to be demilitarized to remove any security threats to Israel. Some kind of solution would have to be reached for the refugee problem, some qualified right of return with compensation. Everyone knows the solution; the question is: Is there political will to implement it?”
It was good to read this solution at the end, but I wanted more. I wanted to hear what Carter thinks is stopping both sides from reaching this solution. I wanted his ideas for how the rest of the world can help Israel and Palestine achieve peace. Simply saying that this is the solution is a good step. But it’s a step many have written over the years. What’s the next step? Carter seems to imply that it’s Israel’s step to take, but he doesn’t tell us how it’s ever going to happen.