Friday, January 19, 2007

Last Word: Jimmy Carter
Revisiting 'Apartheid'
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Newsweek International
Dec. 25, 2006 - Jan. 1, 2007 issue - Former president Jimmy Carter has long been regard-ed as an elder statesman, using his political muscle to address issues like democracy and human rights. But he's also been a prolific author. Since leaving office in January 1981, he has written 23 books, on subjects ranging from American moral values to his childhood on a Georgia farm. His latest—and perhaps most controversial—offering, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," reflects his long interest in the Middle East. (As president, he personally negotiated peace between Israel and Egypt.) But it has also drawn fire for its use of the word apartheid to describe the current circumstances of the Palestinian people. While the book has shot up the best-seller list, the former president has been denounced for his criticism of Israel. He's also come under fire from former Carter Center associate Kenneth Stein, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at Emory University, who has raised questions about the book's accuracy. (Disclosure: NEWSWEEK's Christopher Dickey was one of the people asked to comment on an early draft of the book.) President Carter spoke to NEWSWEEK's Eleanor Clift. Excerpts:

Clift: You've created quite a stir. I suspect it was partly intentional. Carter: Well, it was. One of the purposes of the book was to provoke discussion, which is very rarely heard in this country, and to open up some possibility that we could rejuvenate or restart the peace talks in Israel that have been absent for six years—so that was the purpose of the book.
The word apartheid—did you agonize about that? Not really, I didn't agonize because I knew that's an accurate description of what's going on in Palestine. I would say that the plight of the Palestinians now—the confiscation of their land, that they're being suppressed completely against voicing their disapproval of what's happening, the building of the wall that intrudes deep within their territory, the complete separation of Israelis from the Palestinians—all of those things in many ways are worse than some of the aspects of apartheid in South Africa. There is no doubt about it, and no one can go there and visit the different cities in Palestine without agreeing with what I have said.
Why do you think you're under attack for the book and the title? You and I both know the powerful influence of AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee], which is not designed to promote peace. I'm not criticizing them, they have a perfect right to lobby, but their purpose in life is to protect and defend the policies of the Israeli government and to make sure those policies are approved in the United States and in our Congress—and they're very effective at it. I have known a large number of Jewish organizations in this country [that] have expressed their approval for the book and are trying to promote peace. But their voices are divided and they're relatively reluctant to speak out publicly. And any member of Congress who's looking to be re-elected couldn't possibly say that they would take a balanced position between Israel and the Palestinians, or that they would insist on Israel withdrawing to international borders, or that they would dedicate themselves to protect human rights of Palestinians—it's very likely that they would not be re-elected.
In some of your interviews you've said that this is a debate that's out in the open in Israel, and it's only here that we feel inhibited. Oh yes—that's correct. Not only in Israel—all over Israel, the major news media, every day—[but] obviously in the Arab world, even in Europe. In this country, any sort of debate back and forth, any sort of incisive editorial comment in the major newspapers, is almost completely absent.
You're obviously aware of your main critic, Mr. Stein, who used to be with the Carter Center. Thirteen years ago! He hasn't been associated with the Carter Center for 13 years.
He says that he was a third party in some meetings and that his notes don't jibe with yours. He was a third party in some of the meetings, I can't deny that. And a lot of those meetings took place when I was still president and an exact transcription was kept and it's in the official files. So the reports that I gave in the book are completely accurate.
He also accuses you of plagiarism, saying you took from other sources. The only source that I took anything from that I know about was my own book, which I wrote earlier—it's called "The Blood of Abraham" ... Somebody told me [that Stein] was complaining about the maps in the book. Well, the maps are derived from an atlas that was published in 2004 in Jerusalem and it was basically produced under the aegis of officials in Sweden. And the Swedish former prime minister is the one who told me this was the best atlas available about the Middle East.


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