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Reviewed by:
  • Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid
  • Richard Schifter (bio)
Jimmy Carter: Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006. 288 pages. ISBN 10-0-7432-8502-6. $27.

International conflicts often generate sharply differing narratives about their origins and development. Some narratives are based on careful research and thoughtful analysis of all relevant data. Others are political screeds that present the case of one side to the conflict. President Carter's Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid is a narrative that appears to be based largely on the version of history that Yasser Arafat and his close associates have presented to Carter. The very title of the book, which suggests a parallel between the actions of the state of Israel and of apartheid South Africa, reflects one of the current themes of the anti-Israel propaganda machine.

President Carter does, of course, have the right to his opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What is troublesome about the book is that he uses his stature as a former president of the United States to present the country with a discourse on an important international issue that omits significant relevant facts and that is studded with misinformation. We would not expect Jimmy Carter to misinform the American public deliberately. We must assume that without checking on the veracity of statements made to him, he included in the book the inaccurate information that had been supplied to him by one of the parties to the conflict.

The government of the United States has for many years been committed to the attainment of peace through the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side at peace with Israel. The challenge has been to resolve two issues: (1) drawing the borders between the two states, and (2) resettling Palestinian refugees of the 1948 and 1967 wars and their descendants. Defining the principles that would govern the drawing of these future borders was the effort that President Clinton undertook in the Camp David [End Page 136] negotiations of 2000, negotiations that did not lead to agreement. In 2003 President George W. Bush proposed "A Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict," which remains on the table as the US proposal for the attainment of peace. It, too, leaves the task of drawing the final borders to the concerned parties.

The basic thesis of President Carter's book is that the location of the borders is not an issue to be negotiated. He contends that Israel is legally required to withdraw to the armistice lines drawn in 1949, which defined the area under Israeli governance on 4 June 1967, the day before the so-called Six-Day War started. To reach this conclusion Carter has omitted major relevant data and has presented the reader with allegations that distort history. That is not to suggest that throughout this period Israel's record in its relations with the Palestinians has been free from error. It is to suggest that Carter's analysis is seriously flawed.

The book begins with a "Historical Chronology." That chronology skips over two highly relevant facts: (1) the Palestinian Arab state visualized by the United Nations' 1947 partition resolution never came into existence because Jordan (then Transjordan) occupied the West Bank area in 1948 and then made it part of the renamed state of Jordan; (2) when the Arab states that had attacked the newly created state of Israel in 1948 entered armistice agreements in 1949, they refused to negotiate a final peace agreement. The armistice demarcation lines, therefore, never became internationally recognized borders. They still had not been confirmed as borders in 1967, when the Six-Day War broke out. It is that war that led to the occupation of the West Bank by Israel, the issue that still needs to be resolved.

Having skipped over the circumstances of Jordan's acquisition of the West Bank territory, Carter discusses how Jordan lost it: he contends that Israel seized the West Bank in 1967 in a preemptive attack on Jordan. The June 1967 war did indeed start with a preemptive Israeli attack on Egypt, after seven Egyptian divisions had massed in the Sinai for what was...