Sunday, December 17, 2006

The myths about Israel

The Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group's much-touted report perpetuates the myth that the Israel-Palestine conflict is a major cause of turmoil and instability in the Middle East and elsewhere in the Muslim world.

It calls for direct U.S. involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict, claiming that this would ease tensions and expedite the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. This is apparently a jab at the Bush Administration's failure to pressure Israel to make concessions to the Arabs.

As part of its formula to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict, the report also calls upon the Administration to make diplomatic overtures to Syria, even though arms and guerrilla troops are infiltrating Iraq from there. The absurd assumption is that the Iraq crisis might be fixed if Israel would just return the Golan Heights to Syria.

These views are sheer nonsense and reflect the animus towards Israel that James Baker, who co-chaired the study group, displayed towards Israel as Secretary of State during Bush Sr.'s administration. Baker will always be remembered for his private but much-publicized remark--uttered during a White House discussion of Middle East policy--that "they [the Jews] don't vote for us any way, so fuck 'em."

Settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict will not solve the mess in Iraq, for there is no linkage between that conflict and the Iraqi civil war. Even if Israel did not exist, there would still be plenty of turmoil and instability in the Islamic world.

The Shiites and the Sunnis would still be butchering each other in Iraq. So would Palestine's rival political factions, Fatah and Hamas, who are battling in Gaza and the West Bank. These are the people with whom Baker and company expect Israel to seriously negotiate. The two factions cannot even form a stable, functioning Palestinian government.

Even with Israel absent from the international scene, there would still be tension between Sunnis and Shiites in other Muslim countries. Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states would still be threatened by Iran and their own restive Shiite minorities. Moreover, Lebanon would still be on the brink of civil war, as it has been for generations.

Al-Qaeda, which added the Israel-Palestine issue to its agenda long after 9/11, would still be in the terrorist business in Afghanistan and would be inspiring the creation of radical Islamic terrorists in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere. Its basic grievance has been corruption in Saudi Arabia and the presence of U.S. troops on its soil. Even without Israel around, Iran would still be developing nuclear weapons and trying to spread its influence in the Middle East, as it has already done successfully in Iraq.

And if Israel did not exist, pro-American but authoritarian governments in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Algeria would still be under pressure from radical Islamists. Despite vast oil wealth in some Middle East countries, much of the Muslim world would still be suffering from deep-rooted poverty, economic backwardness, repressive government, and medieval social traditions.

In Afghanistan, for example, the Taliban, which has made a comeback since the ill-fated U.S. invasion of Iraq, is executing teachers regarded as dangerous because they spread "infidel" values. In Somalia, Islamist extremists are taking control, and in at least one region are beheading people who fail pray five times daily as required by the Koran.

In short, the fundamental problem in the Arab world is not the Palestinians' misfortune and Israel's creation six decades ago. To be sure, the Israelis some times behave in a manner that offends European sensibilities. But they live in a tough neighborhood. Like anybody surrounded and outnumbered by neighbors dedicated to their destruction, they have been forced to take their security concerns very seriously.

Former President Jimmy Carter has perpetuated other myths about Israel in his scurrilous new book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," which demonizes the Jewish state. The book's title is deliberately provocative, but as Carter himself confesses in the book, Israel's racial policies are not comparable with the former apartheid South Africa's. Despite his book's insulting title, he writes that there is "no semblance of anything relating to apartheid with the nation of Israel." His cynical use of the word is clearly meant to smear the Jewish state.

The book is riddled with so many factual errors and biases that it is unworthy of the man who won the Nobel Peace Prize for arranging the Israel-Egypt peace treaty in 1979. For example, Carter is factually wrong when he states that U.N. Resolution 242 requires Israel to withdraw to the 1949 armistice line. In fact, the resolution says that negotiations will resolve the location of boundaries between Israel and a Palestinian state.

Carter persistently overlooks Israel's offer to withdraw from territory acquired during the 1967 war from Egypt and Jordan and to recognize an independent Palestinian state on that land. He seems to be unaware that the Arabs refused that offer and rejected the idea of negotiating and recognizing the legitimacy of Israel's statehood.

Carter also fails to note that the constitution of the Palestine Liberation Organization, organized before the 1967 war when the West Bank and Gaza were still in Arab hands and not occupied by Israel, calls for "liberation" of Israel itself. Nor does he acknowledge the PLO's continual terrorist attacks on Israel aimed at its civilian population.

Instead of acknowledging Yasser Arafat's regular calls for violent "jihad," Carter writes admiringly about the deceased PLO leader and almost always presents Israeli leaders in a negative light trying to impede the peace process. The vicious Arab incitement against Israel and Jews is treated as a trivial complaint and not as the fuel that keeps alive the flame of bigotry and violence.

Ironically, Carter argues that critics of Israel are intimidated by the alleged political and financial power of a "Jewish lobby," and that he himself is a victim of a vast Jewish conspiracy. His defamatory, one-sided book and the widespread attention it is receiving demonstrate the absurdity of his argument. Indeed, his own stature as a former U.S. President enables him to disseminate a twisted view of the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Carter distorts what happened at the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks sponsored in year 2000 by the Clinton Administration at Camp David. He charges that Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Barak rejected Clinton's proposal of land for peace. According to U.S. officials who attended the meeting, however, Israel accepted the proposal, agreeing to a Palestinian state in all of Gaza and 97% of he West Bank. Barak even supported allocating $10 billion to compensate Palestinian refugees.

Arafat turned down the offer because it did not allow the return of millions of Arab refugees and their descendants to what is now the state of Israel. This would have been, of course, suicidal for the Israelis. Usually forgotten in the refugee argument is that just about the same number of Jews had to flee from Egypt, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Morocco, Libya, and other Muslim nations as there were Palestinian refugees. The difference is that Israel absorbed these Jewish refugees while the Arab countries have kept virtually all the Palestinians in refugee camps, using them as political tools against Israel.

Criticizing Israel's controversial security fence and border checkpoints, Carter misrepresents their purpose. Israel does not seek to "imprison Palestinians," as the former President suggests, but to keep terrorists out. Carter shows little patience for such nuances.

In short, Carter is blind to the fact that Israel has consistently offered to surrender occupied territories in exchange for the suspension of Palestinian terrorism and a recognition of its right to exist as a majority Jewish state.

To protest Carter's book, Kenneth Stein, an Emory University professor who was the first director of the school's Carter Center, established by the former President, has resigned from the institution. Stein said the book is "replete with factual errors...glaring omissions, and simply invented segments." Carter even gets it wrong in referring to Yemen's capital as "Tirana." That, of course, is the capital of Albania.

1 Comments:

Blogger Ruth said...

Thank you, Mort, for the rebuttal to Jimmy Carter's book. I've been sputtering ever since I read the title, and I refuse to pay money for it in order to read it. The title and the excerpts I've read have been quite bad enough!

Demonizing Israel as he has done in this book will not do anything to further peace in the region. It is difficult to reconcile this Carter with the man who brokered the Camp David Accords.

Thanks again for your calm, well-informed voice!

Sunday, December 24, 2006 2:17:00 AM  

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