Jimmy Carter's peace mission
April 18, 2008
It takes a (former) president

by Dr. Fred Struckmeyer,
philosophy chair, West Chester University, West Chester, PA

Jimmy Carter, I have just learned, is going to Damascus to talk to the Hamas leadership—the very people to whom the current Israeli government refuses to talk. Or, if it does talk, it is always from a top-dog standpoint. Someone may point out that the Palestinians have been a bottom-dog position pretty much since 1948, but their situation has very much worsened in recent months. A fuel cut-off from Israel is the latest sign of this.

Former President Carter was vilified, several years ago, when he published a book entitled Palestine - Peace not Apartheid. The title alone was enough to outrage many in Israel and, especially, in the United States. Comparing the situation of the Palestinians to that of pre-1990 blacks in South Africa was beyond the pale, they alleged. Israel is the only genuine democracy in the Middle East. It necessarily has had to take somewhat drastic measures to protect itself against Palestinian and other Arab enemies. And these days it has a major worry in the form of a bellicose Iran, who may be on the verge of gaining nuclear weapons.

The real objection to Carter's book seems to be its even-handedness. American politicians and ex-politicians are expected to support Israel—period. You're either with them or you're with the Palestinian extremists. What then to make of the book Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine (University of Chicago, 2007)? This on-the-ground report by an American born Israeli scholar, who teaches at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, shows that it is possible to oppose specific Israeli policies (extending the wall which encloses Palestinian territory, destroying homes and olive orchards, continuing to allow new settlements on contested land, and so on) while still remaining a loyal Israeli citizen. There are certainly other Israelis, and American Jews also, who are appalled at the Palestinian suffering—not just the almost totally one-sided death rate when there is a gun battle or other violent confrontation. But a feeling of helpless resignation seems to be the predominant mood. No one knows what to do or even what might be worth trying. Meanwhile, the net amount of anti-Semitism in the world ratchets upward.

May Jimmy Carter's tribe increase. His Carter Center, in Atlanta, already has done much to foster the cause of peace and nonviolence worldwide. The situation in Israel and the territories is a reminder, as if we needed one, that state violence mirrors individual violence in finally being self-defeating. It does not get us the security we want. Only the meeting of real human needs can do that.

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