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«Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid», Jimmy Carter

To our first great-grandchild, Henry Lewis Carter, with hopes that he will see peace and justice in the Holy Land

The Bible says that when the first blood was shed among His children, God asked Cain, the slayer, «Where is Abel thy brother?» And he said, «I know not. Am I my brother’s keeper?» And the Lord said, «What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground. And now art thou cursed...»

(GENESIS 4:9–11)

The blood of Abraham, God’s father of the chosen, still flows in the veins of Arab, Jew, and Christian, and too much of it has been spilled in grasping for the inheritance of the revered patriarch in the Middle East. The spilled blood in the Holy Land still cries out to God — an anguished cry for peace.

 — from The Blood of Abraham, by Jimmy Carter


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Historical Chronology

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Developments in the Middle East can best be understood if the history of the region is reviewed. Listed here are a few of the important events that have led to the existing state of affairs.

ca. 1900 B.C.: Abraham journeys from Ur to Canaan.

ca. 1200 B.C.: Moses leads the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt.

ca. 1000 B.C.: King David unites the twelve tribes of Israel, then his son Solomon builds the Temple in Jerusalem.

ca. 930 B.C.: The Israelite nation divides into two weaker kingdoms, Israel and Judah. Israel is conquered by the Assyrians about 720 B.C., and Judah is destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.

ca. 538 B.C.: Persia conquers Babylon and permits exiled Jews to return to Jerusalem.

332 B.C.: Greeks conquer the region.

167 B.C.: Jews establish an independent Judaea.

63 B.C.: Romans establish control over Judaea.

ca. 4 B.C.: Jesus is born. He is crucified thirty-three years later after a ministry of three years. Christian churches are established throughout the eastern Roman Empire.

A.D. 70: A Jewish revolt against Rome is put down and the Temple is destroyed.

135: Romans suppress a Jewish revolt, killing or forcing almost all Jews of Judaea into exile. The Romans name the province Syria Palaestina.

ca. 325: The Roman Emperor Constantine, a Christian, strengthens his own religion throughout the region.

ca. 570: The Prophet Muhammad is born in Mecca, establishes the Islamic faith, unites the Arabian Peninsula, and dies in 632. Arabic rule and faith spread rapidly throughout Syria Palaestina, Persia, and Egypt.

1099: The first Crusaders capture Jerusalem and establish Christian rule over Palestine.

1187: Saladin, sultan of Egypt, conquers Jerusalem and, except for a fifteen-year interval, Muslims control Palestine until the end of World War I.

1516: The Ottoman Turks take Syria, Palestine, and then Egypt.

1861: The French establish Lebanon as an autonomous district within Syria, under Christian leadership.

1882: British forces occupy Egypt and remain there until 1955.

1917: Great Britain, during World War I, issues the Balfour Declaration, promising a Jewish national home in Palestine, with respect for the rights of non-Jewish Palestinians.

1922: After the Ottoman Empire is defeated in World War I, the League of Nations confirms British mandates over Iraq and Palestine, and a French mandate over Syria and Lebanon. Transjordan is separated from the Palestine Mandate and becomes an autonomous kingdom.

1936: Palestinian Arabs demand a halt to Jewish immigration and a ban on land sales to Jews. British troops attempt to assert control, but violence continues. The Peel Commission recommends partition of Palestine between Arabs and Jews.

1939: Britain announces severe restrictions on Jewish immigration and land purchases in Palestine. Violence erupts from Jewish militants.

1947: Britain lets the United Nations decide what to do about Palestine, which is partitioned into Jewish, Arab, and international areas (Jerusalem and Bethlehem). Fifty-five percent of the territory is allocated to the Jewish state. Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan are now independent states.

1948: The British mandate over Palestine terminates. Israelis declare their independence as a nation, Arab armies attack, and Israel prevails. U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 establishes a conciliation commission and asserts that refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace should be allowed to do so, that compensation should be paid to others, and that free access to the holy places should be assured.

1949: Armistice agreements with the Arabs allow Israel to gain more land (77 percent of Palestine). Egypt occupies the Gaza Strip. Transjordan, renamed Jordan, controls what is left of the west bank of the Jordan River, including Old Jerusalem, and in 1950 annexes this territory.

1956: Egypt nationalizes the Suez Canal, and Israel joins Britain and France in occupying the canal area. Under international pressure all foreign forces withdraw from Egyptian territories by the next year. U.N. forces are assigned to patrol strategic areas of the Sinai.

1964: The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is established, committed to wage a battle to liberate the homeland of the Palestinian people.

1967: Egypt blockades the Straits of Tiran, and Arab forces make menacing moves. Israel launches preemptive attacks on Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and then Jordan, and within six days occupies the Golan Heights, Gaza, the Sinai, and the West Bank, including Jerusalem.

Six months later, U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 is passed, confirming the inadmissibility of the acquisition of land by force and calling for Israel’s withdrawal from occupied territories, the right of all states in the region to live in peace within secure and recognized borders, and a just solution to the refugee problem.

1973: Egypt and Syria attack Israeli forces in the Sinai and Golan Heights. This conflict becomes known as the Yom Kippur War. After sixteen days of war, U.N. Resolution 338 is passed, confirming Resolution 242 and calling for international peace talks. Various disengagement agreements follow.

1974: The Arab summit at Rabat in Morocco unanimously proclaims the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Israel agrees to withdraw from Syrian territory, except for control of the Golan Heights.

1975: Civil war erupts in Lebanon. With approval from the international community the following year, Syria sends troops to establish order.

1977: Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat visits Jerusalem and outlines Arab demands to the Israeli Knesset. Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin makes a return visit to Ismailia, with no progress toward peace.

1978: The Camp David Accords are approved by Israel and Egypt, confirming Israel’s compliance with U.N. Resolution 242, withdrawal of political and military forces from the West Bank and Gaza, and full autonomy for Palestinians. The Accords outline a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt and other Arab neighbors. The Accords are rejected by the Arabs at the Baghdad summit, and Egypt is isolated.

1979: A peace treaty is signed between Israel and Egypt, guaranteeing withdrawal of Israel from the Sinai, normal diplomatic relations, and Israel’s access to the Suez Canal.

1981: Israel escalates establishment of settlements on Palestinian territory. Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat is assassinated.

1982: In response to terrorist attacks across Lebanon’s border, Israeli troops move into Lebanon, seeking to destroy PLO forces there. The militant Lebanese organization known as Hezbollah is established. Subsequent actions by the Israelis in Lebanon draw international criticism.

1985: Israel partially removes its forces from Lebanon.

1987: A Palestinian intifada (uprising) erupts, and Israel responds to the violence with harsh reprisals. The militant Palestinian organization known as Hamas is established.

1988: Jordan cedes its rights in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to the PLO. PLO head Yasir Arafat acknowledges Israel’s right to exist and renounces violence. The U.S. and the PLO initiate dialogue.

1991: The Persian Gulf War ejects Iraqi forces that have invaded Kuwait. Many Palestinian exiles move to Jordan. A Middle East peace conference, focusing on Arab-Israeli relations, is convened in Madrid.

1993: Israel and the PLO conclude a peace agreement in Oslo with mutual recognition and a five-year plan to resolve all remaining differences. Militant Palestinians and right-wing Israelis begin attempts to undermine the agreement.

1994: The Palestinian National Authority is established. Israel and Jordan sign a comprehensive peace agreement.

1995: Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is assassinated by an Israeli right-wing religious fanatic. This setback to the peace process is exacerbated by violent attacks from Palestinian groups opposed to the Oslo Agreement.

1996: Palestinians elect Yasir Arafat as president and elect the members of a legislative council. Israelis return the Likud Party to power, which stalls the Oslo process.

1998: The Wye River Memorandum is issued after talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, under U.S. auspices. An airport is opened in Gaza, with flights to Arab nations.

2000: Israeli forces are withdrawn from Lebanon except for a disputed area, Shebaa Farms. Peace negotiations at Camp David break down. Ariel Sharon visits the Temple Mount and a second intifada is launched, more violent than the first.

2001: Ariel Sharon is elected prime minister of Israel, committed to rejection of the Oslo peace agreement and an emphasis on national security. The Gaza airport runway is bulldozed.

2002: An Arab League summit meeting endorses a Saudi peace plan based on U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338. Suicide bombings provoke strong Israeli response. Sharon blames Arafat for the violence and confines him in his Ramallah office. Israel begins building a separation barrier within the West Bank.

2003: The Quartet Group (the United States, United Nations, European Union, and Russia) agree on a «road map for peace». Palestinians pledge full support, but Israel rejects key points. Violence continues, and the security barrier in the West Bank draws international criticism for undermining the peace process. An unofficial peace agreement negotiated by Israelis and Palestinians is released with extensive international support as the Geneva Initiative.

2004: Yasir Arafat dies.

2005: Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is elected president of the Palestinian National Authority. Israel unilaterally evacuates its settlements from the Gaza Strip and four from the West Bank.

January 2006: Ariel Sharon suffers a massive stroke. Palestinians elect a new government, with Hamas winning a small plurality of votes but a majority of parliamentary seats. Israel and the United States isolate Palestine, cutting off funds.

March–August 2006: Ehud Olmert becomes Israel’s prime minister, promising that the dividing wall will, in effect, be the new Israeli–West Bank border. Hamas and Hezbollah militants capture Israeli soldiers, and Israeli forces attack Gaza and Lebanon. Hezbollah missiles strike northern Israel. The United Nations approves Resolution 1701, establishing a fragile cease-fire.


Prospects for Peace

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One of the major goals of my life, while in political office and since I was retired from the White House by the 1980 election, has been to help ensure a lasting peace for Israelis and others in the Middle East. Many people share the same dream, and at times my own efforts to achieve this goal have been intertwined with some of theirs. It will be good to consider what has brought us to the present situation, the obstacles before us, and some things that can and must be done to bring peace and justice to the region.

No fictional drama could be filled with more excitement, unanticipated happenings, or intriguing characters than this effort to end the ongoing conflict; it is certainly one of the most fascinating and truly important political and military subjects of modern times. The Middle East is perhaps the most volatile region in the world, whose instability is a persistent threat to global peace. It is also the incubator of much of the terrorism that is of such great concern to Americans and citizens of other nations. Although it is not difficult to express the challenges in somewhat simplistic terms, the issues are extremely complex and are derived from both ancient and modern-day political and religious history.

The questions to be considered are almost endless:

What are the prime requisites for peace? What possibilities does the future hold? What common ground already exists on which the contending parties can build a more secure future? Are there better prospects for success from quiescent diplomatic efforts or from bold and public pressure for negotiations? Can there be a stable peace that perpetuates the present circumstances? Must the situation steadily deteriorate until another crisis causes the interested parties to act? Even with full American backing, can Israel’s enormous military power prevail over militant Arabs?

Most chilling of all, could the festering differences precipitate a military confrontation involving the use of nuclear weapons? It is known that Israel has a major nuclear arsenal and the capability to launch weapons quickly, and some neighboring states are believed to be attempting to acquire their own atomic bombs. Without progress toward peace, desperation or adventurism on either side could precipitate such a confrontation.

There are growing schisms in the Middle East region, with hardening Arab animosity toward the Israeli–United States alliance. The war in Iraq has dramatized the conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims, and has strengthened the influence of Iran. Militant Arabs, including Hamas and Hezbollah, have been given new life and influence as they are seen to be struggling against Israeli occupation of Palestine. The absence of any viable peace initiative exacerbates each individual controversy.

In times of greatest discouragement, ultimate hope has rested on the fact that, overwhelmingly, the people in the region — even those Syrians, Israelis, Lebanese, and Palestinians who are most distrusted by their adversaries — want the peace efforts to succeed. The rhetoric and demands from all sides may be harsh, but there are obvious areas of agreement that can provide a basis for progress. Private discussions with Arab leaders are much more promising than their public statements would lead one to believe, and in Israel there is a strong and persistent constituency for moderation that is too little heard or appreciated in neighboring states or in America.

Continuing impediments have been the desire of some Israelis for Palestinian land, the refusal of some Arabs to accept Israel as a neighbor, the absence of a clear and authoritative Palestinian voice acceptable to Israel, the refusal of both sides to join peace talks without onerous preconditions, the rise in Islamic fundamentalism, and the recent lack of any protracted effort by the United States to pursue peace based on international law and previous agreements ratified by Israel.

In spite of the obvious need to resolve differences, the peace effort does not have a life of its own; it is not self-sustaining. The United States will always be preoccupied with Iraq, Iran, North Korea, or other strategic responsibilities, and there are competing factors that distract Arab leaders who heretofore had been more inclined to focus on peace with Israel and a just solution to the Palestinian question. Many Arab regimes have become increasingly preoccupied with domestic problems, which include resurgent religious identity, rising expectations among more literate constituencies and the emerging middle classes, a fear of further intrusion by external forces, and stirrings of democracy. There is a tendency for these regimes to free themselves from their Palestinian burden.

The situation is obviously not encouraging, but neither is it hopeless if leaders can remember the progress already made and build on past negotiated agreements. Most Arab regimes have accepted the permanent existence of Israel as an indisputable fact and are no longer calling for an end to the State of Israel, having contrived a common statement at an Arab summit in 2002 that offers peace and normal relations with Israel for its withdrawal from all Arab territories occupied since 1967, its acceptance of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and its agreement to a just solution of the Palestinian refugee problem.

There is no place for sustained violence, which tends to subvert peace initiatives and perpetuate hatred and combat. Some Palestinians have responded to political and military occupation by launching terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, a course of action that is both morally reprehensible and politically counterproductive. These dastardly acts have brought widespread condemnation and discredit on the entire Palestinian community — and are almost suicidal for the Palestinian cause. It has been encouraging to observe an almost complete absence of violence during those all-too-brief intervals when the prospects for peace and justice gave the people hope. This was evident, for instance, during the time of the Camp David Accords in 1978, and when the Palestinians were welcomed to the Madrid conference in 1991, as well as during the several Palestinian elections.

It has always been clear that the antagonists cannot be expected to take the initiative to resolve their own differences. Hatred and distrust in the Middle East are too ingrained and pride is too great for any of the disputing parties to offer invitations or concessions that they know will almost inevitably be rejected. Accommodation must be sought through negotiation with all parties to the dispute, with each having fair representation and the right to participate in free discussions. Compromise is necessary from both sides, with clear distinctions made between what their dreams and ideology dictate and what is pragmatically possible. Although some extremists disagree, most Israelis have learned that they cannot reconstruct the Kingdom of David, which includes all of the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and parts of Lebanon and Jordan. At the same time, most Palestinians have been forced to accept the fact that the nation of Israel will never be erased from the map. Neither side can predict or impose on others the ultimate outcome of negotiations, and any final agreement has to be both voluntary and acceptable to both sides.

Strong support for peace talks must come from the United States, preferably involving representatives of the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia. Until recently, America’s leaders were known and expected to exert maximum influence in an objective, nonbiased way to achieve peace in the Middle East. In order to resume this vital role, the United States must be a trusted participant, evenhanded, consistent, unwavering, and enthusiastic — a partner with both sides and not a judge of either. Although it is inevitable that at times there will be a tilt one way or the other, in the long run the role of honest broker must once again be played by Washington.