Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Jimmy Olmert? Ehud Carter?

Apropos the once-again moribund Middle East peace process - if one can in fact call this kind of endless churning of diplomatic activity a process - the New York Times chimed in with this editorial on Saturday, Mr. Olmert's Belated Truth's. It seems that the Times is grudgingly appreciative of the fact that the exiting Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, had screwed up the courage to speak out about the reality behind his nation's conflict with the Palestinian people and to outline how it could be resolved.

Ignoring for the moment that the Times had dragged their feet for decades in coming to the very same conclusions that Mr. Olmert did, it was gratifying to see that the editors and the P. M. were finally on the same geopolitical page in recognizing the following:
  • that an Israeli peace with the Palestinians requires the full withdrawal of Israeli forces and settlements from all of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem,
  • that the return of the Golan Heights must be on the table as part of peace negotiations with Syria,
  • and that it would be a foolhardy adventure - megalomania, according to Olmert - for Israeli to undertake unilateral military action to thwart Iran's development of nuclear weapons.
As encouraging as it is that Olmert has finally come to see the light, or more accurately, come to speak these inconvenient truths, in the waning days of his scandal-plagued administration, it should be noted that both he and the New York Times have reluctantly become proponents of the idea that peace in the region, and, ultimately, Israel's security, can only be achieved by the return of the West Bank - with small adjustments of territory excepted - to Palestinian control.

One international figure, it turns out, has been championing just this position for years, and, in spite of winning a Nobel Peace Prize, has met with much disdain from the American public and not infrequent accusations of antisemitism from the American Jewish community. That man, of course, is former president, Jimmy Carter.

In his 2006 book, "Peace Not Apartheid" Carter reviews the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict focusing his attention specifically on the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War. He and, interestingly enough, the Labor leadership of Israel at the time of the hostilities, concluded that the occupation of Palestinian lands would inevitably interfere with Israel's aspirations to remain a Jewish state, one living at peace with its neighbors within secure borders. Carter's stance was a principled one, rooted in the system of international law that had come to maturity with the establishment of the United Nations following the devastation of the Second World War. His stance was also both a practical and a personally compassionate one, as well.

Sadly, the influx of North African Jews and refugees from the Soviet Union, helped transform the Israeli political landscape in the 1970s and brought to power a right-wing government that harbored ambitions for a "Greater Israel", a notion derived from Biblically-based claims that were never part of the secular, internationalist vision of the Labor Party founders of the Israeli state. Thus work was frustrated on further exchanges of land-for-peace, like the one between Egypt and Israel, which Carter had helped to secure with the Camp David accords and which he saw as model for similar agreements between Israel and other parties to the conflict.

Well, at long last, it appears that Carter's even-handed approach to resolving disputes in the region, often characterized unfairly as "pro-Palestinian" and irrationally as "antisemitic" by those who brook no criticism of Israeli policies, is finally being widely adopted. (Oddly enough, Carter's fringe point-of-view - fringe relative to that of his fellow Americans, that is - has long been considered centrist in western European political circles and well within the bounds of reasonable discourse within Israel itself.)

Carter has, to say the least, suffered the slings and arrows which come with staking out a principled position and defending it over a long period of time, in the face of withering and unwarranted personal attacks. He must be gratified finally to see an Israeli prime minister, even a departing one, affirming his own long-held prescription for an Israeli-Palestinian peace.

I, for one, I am grateful that Carter has stuck to his guns and has never stopped reminding us, as he did while he was president, that solutions to conflict must always be founded on a respect for human rights and that the rule of international law must everywhere be fostered and observed.

Given all that hangs in the balance in the Middle East and given the havoc wrought by an American administration which sees respect for human rights as discretionary and which regards international law often as no more than an impediment to their freedom to act unilaterally, it is now more important than ever to be reminded of Jimmy Carter's not-at-all belated truths.

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