Jimmy Carter’s New Book Is Must Reading for Freeman’s Successor

Jimmy Carter’s New Book Is Must Reading for Freeman’s Successor

While keeping up with L’Affaire Freeman, which has been consuming this blog of late, I have been rereading Jimmy Carter’s We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work 

I started this post on Carter’s book the morning that Ann Hafften sent me her latest blog posting from “A Texas Lutheran’s Voice for Middle East Peace”. 

I have a double motive for linking to Ann Hafften’s blog. First, her sources are well chosen. Second, I need to point out that progressive peace and justice bloggers like Ann Hafften were following Charles Freeman’s rise and fall as the potential NIC chair. The arrival of Carter’s book was timely, a break in the dark clouds of the Israel Lobby’s grip on our political life. 

These bloggers cheered the Freeman appointment, and then when their hopes were dashed, they expressed their disapproval over the Obama team’s failure to defend a well qualified appointee. A word of warning to Obama: You have friends in the religious peace and justice community; keep that in mind the next time you let a Freeman-type appointment hang in the wind. 

Ann Hafften is one of the more experienced members of this blogging community. She brings media experience and a personal passion to the task.

For most of her pre-blogging career, Ann worked as a communication specialist for agencies of the Lutheran church. After several trips to Palestine and Israel she had her own Damascus Road experience when she realized she had been duped by the US media’s one-sided coverage of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian people. 

Ann directed the news service of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) for six years. Her first trip to the Middle East was as a pilgrim in 1977. For several years  she returned to Israel as a kibbutz volunteer. In 1989, she traveled with a Fellowship of Reconciliation delegation. Following that trip she became an ardent advocate for the Palestinian cause.

After four years as the ELCA’s coordinator for Middle East networking, Ann moved to Weatherford, Texas, where she writes her blog and serves as US Coordinator for the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel.

Ann Hafften brings to life Moshe Dyan’s prediction.  It was Dyan who was supposed to have said that Israel had more to fear from Palestinian tour guides than it did from Palestinian fighter pilots. To his credit, Dyan also once said: “If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends, you talk to your enemies.”  Carter liked that quote. 

It was out of this background that Ann Hafften embraced the writings and career of Jimmy Carter. In her blog she points first to a review by Alkva Eldar, in Ha’aretz:

Likudniks don’t scare former United States president Jimmy Carter. On the contrary: The electoral turnaround of 1977 that brought them to power for the first time enabled Carter to be inscribed in the history books as the leader who facilitated the first peace agreement between Israelis and Arabs. In his new book, We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land, Carter relates that neither he nor America’s Jewish community knew what to expect from prime minister Menachem Begin, a former underground fighter who had acquired a bad name for himself as a war-mongering fanatic. Egyptian president Anwar Sadat reported to Carter that he had asked Eastern European leaders who knew the new prime minister whether Begin was an honest man and a strong person. According to him, the answers were in the affirmative.

“In a telephone interview before this week’s election, I asked Carter what he thinks of Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu. From his office at the Carter Center in Atlanta, the 39th U.S. president answered calmly that Netanyahu is a practical politician, and that if a proposed peace agreement wins broad support among the Israeli public, the Likud leader would not turn his back on it, and would be `constructive.’

NPR began its piece with an appreciative word on Carter’s work in shaping the historic peace agreement between Israel and Egypt:

Nearly 30 years ago, Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty that holds to this day. Much of the credit for that treaty goes to former President Jimmy Carter.

In the decades since, Carter has pursued a much more elusive goal: a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. And he says there have been three recent developments that could help achieve it. The first development was the election of Barack Obama as president, he tells NPR’s Renee Montagne. For the Middle East, Carter said, that should mean `a balanced and aggressive commitment to bring peace. That’s quite a change.’

The former president also cited progress in his meetings with members of the Palestinian parties, Hamas and Fatah, in April and December of 2008. For the first time, the Hamas leaders pledged that they would accept any peace agreement negotiated between the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israel,’ Carter said — as long as Palestinians approve the agreement in a referendum.

“And the recent violence between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which Carter called an `evolving tragedy,’ adds what he said is `another element of urgency to bringing peace to Israel.’

Finally, Ann found this segment from religious blogger Eileen Fleming:

With `the fierce urgency of now’ Jimmy Carter writes of reasons why recent `public opinion polls in the Arab world revealed that the United States was seen as a greater threat than Iran, and a successful peace effort in Palestine could be the most important factor in improving its citizens’ opinion of America. Due to their lack of political and military power, the Palestinians have been dependent on the international community to survive; and they have commitments from the UN, the International Quartet and the Arab League who have all dreamt a dream of a sovereign peaceful Palestinian state beside a secure Israel. . . .

“Palestinian negotiator, Ahmed Qurei predicted, `If Israel continues to reject our propositions regarding the borders [of a future Palestinian state], we might demand Israeli citizenship.”A Fatah leader quipped, `Where will a Palestinian state rise up? The Israeli nation is inside us already.’

As a long time observer, admirer, and friend of Carter’s, I am always amazed at his ability to maintain his tranquil demeanor in moving among the leaders he meets and revisits, on his trips to the Middle East. He talks to all sides, fully aware that he will return home to face what he knows will be vitriolic, ill-informed and hostile critics. The Lobby targeted him for his “apartheid” book, as they called it. But nothing slows him down.

Carter wrote this latest book to suggest to the Obama administration some directions toward a peaceful and just solution to the quagmire. A peace-seeker, he is also a realistic politician which is why his guidance is valuable to the new president. Carter continues to believe that a Two State solution is the more realistic option available.  

On this point he has opposition in the pro-Palestinian community, where the apartheid situation in the Occupied Territories has forced a final agreement ever closer to a One State solution.  Why does Carter still support Two States? Simple, he talks with Israeli citizens and officials and he knows how fearful they are of losing their cherished “Jewish state” existence. 

His long involvement with the region is evident in the little asides he includes in his book, as when he notes that he has known Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad “since he was a university student”.  Not many current political leaders have that sort of familiarity with leaders of the region. The last visit I had with Yasir Arafat, he greeted me warmly because I was “a friend of Jimmy Carter’s.” 

Carter understands the finer points of diplomatic negotiations. He writes about Israel’s “three demands” that Hamas “must” agree to before any further discussions may be held. The three Absolute demands have become Israel’s mantra, dutifully promulgated by US media: Hamas must “recognize Israel”, accept all previously negotiated agreements, and forego violence.

The US media rarely gives equal time to the Palestinian response that Carter heard from Hamas leaders; he includes the responses in his book (p. 141-142):

The Hamas response [to the three demands] is that (a) it will acknowledge Israel’s right to live in peace within its 1967 borders, but diplomatic recognition can be mutual only between Israel and a sovereign Palestinian state; (b) previous agreements are not acceptable that are based on Israel’s continuing occupation of Palestine (as was Oslo); and (c) it will agree to a long-term cease-fire (as much as fifty years) between Israel and an adjacent Palestinian state but not officially renounce its right to resist until Israel is no longer occupying Palestine. 

Carter is a veteran at hearing both sides; in contrast, the US media assumes there is no reasonable counter proposal from Hamas because no one has heard from Hamas.  Except, of course, Jimmy Carter, who does talk to Hamas’ leaders, both those based in Gaza and in Damascus. 

Reading Carter’s book is like reading a carefully developed intelligence report from an experienced official who has talked to both sides and understands, at a deep level, what they are saying. Whoever is named to replace Charles Freeman as President Obama’s NIC chair, should study this book. Then he or she should talk to Carter to prepare for the intelligence gathering task ahead.

(For a televised interview Fareed Zakaria conducted with Charles Freeman, click here.  The interview was posted by Andrew Sullivan on his Atlantic blog)

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