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Reviewed by:
  • Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid
  • Ira Sharkansky
Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, by Jimmy Carter. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006. 264 pp. $27.00.

There are enough reviews in print to qualify this book as a "classic," i.e., one that everyone quotes and no one reads.

Having done my professional duty and actually read the book, I find no reason to quarrel with the negative thrust in many of the reviews. To be sure, Carter is not entirely one sided. Several times he notes that a continued lack of peace stems from the failure of Palestinians and other Arabs to recognize Israel's right to exist, and their violence against its civilians. Critics of Carter's book should recall that his pressure at Camp David in 1978 produced a peace treaty with Egypt. It ranks as one of the best services of an American president for Israel. Israelis, Egyptians, and Carter are unhappy with the follow-up to that accord. Nonetheless, it has held, and brought significant benefits to both Israel and Egypt.

Here Carter puts the greater blame for continued problems on Israel's intransigence. He writes that it has not negotiated in good faith; it is intent on seizing Palestinian land for the sake of Jewish settlers in violation of international accords that it has accepted; and it is walling off segments of Palestinian territory from one another in a way to make the functioning of a viable state impossible.

Critics of Carter have gone beyond the text of the book to examine the author's funding. The Carter Center calls itself a non-profit institution committed to conflict prevention and resolution and the promotion of freedom, democracy, and health. Much of its funds come from Arab sources, some of them intense in their animosity to Israel. It looks as if the preacher has taken money from unholy sources.

In my reading, the basic flaw of the book, justifying the label of dishonesty, is its title. "Apartheid" is a loaded word, associated with the widely condemned racist regime of South Africa. In the book, and in numerous presentations, [End Page 161] Carter has indicated that Israel itself is not an apartheid society. I see the term denied whenever I meet with one of my Arab students, chat with an Arab friend in the gym, or when I hear of yet another Arab family moving into our largely Jewish neighborhood and sending its children to the Hebrew-language primary school.

Carter emphasizes that apartheid is in Gaza and the West Bank: closed and separated, and with areas of the West Bank cut off from one another with Israel's barriers of fences and walls along with numerous checkpoints on the roads. He sees the barriers as violations of international law, and as assurance that Palestinian animosity will continue to fuel violence. Here and there he agrees that Israel has a right of self defense, but only if it built the barriers on the international border or within its own territory. Sometimes even this would violate his norms, insofar as it would prevent Palestinians from working, receiving social services, or visiting religious sites in Israel.

What most seems to arouse Carter is the barriers' protection of the settlements built for Jews on Palestinian land, and the roads which only Israelis are permitted to use.

There are several problems in the distinctions Carter would like us to accept. First, the prominence of apartheid in the title overcomes his efforts to refine his accusation. Secondly, the concept of apartheid, and the principal feature of its ugliness, is racism. However, Israel's barriers are not racist but territorial. They are not directed against Arabs, but against Palestinians who are not residents of Israel. Arabs circulate freely within Israel, calling themselves "Israeli Arabs" or "Palestinians living in Israel." Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank have been violent. More than 80 percent of them polled by Palestinian organizations have expressed support for the violence against Israeli civilians. Just as any country can set itself off from danger and enter other countries in actions that are basically defensive, Israel can claim a right to construct barriers in order to protect its citizens from...


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