Don’t Suppress Carter (or the Opportunities for Middle East Peace)
Now that the season of electoral expediency is over, Barack Obama owes Jimmy Carter an apology.
At the Democratic National Convention in Denver, the Party denied Jimmy Carter the traditional invitation to speak that is accorded its former presidents.
According to The Jewish Daily Forward, “Carter’s controversial views on Israel cost him a place on the podium at the Democratic Party convention in late August, senior Democratic operatives acknowledged to the Forward.”
Silencing Carter, who negotiated the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement, involved behind the scenes tensions between supporters of the hard-line AIPAC lobby and those Democrats who argued both respect and free speech to let Carter join Bill Clinton on the stage and address a nationwide audience.
First, there was a compromise offer to let Carter speak but only on domestic policy subjects. This would have kept him from mentioning his views on securing peace between the Israelis and Palestinians through a two-state solution essentially back to the 1967 borders. He previously elaborated his analysis and recommendations in his 2006 bestseller titled Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid..
Even this astonishing restriction on the former president was unacceptable to the dictatorial censors. They wanted nothing from the deliberate, candid Georgian short of complete exclusion.
It is false to attribute this shutdown to the opinions of American Jews, a majority of whom polls show support a two-state solution and disagree on other issues with the AIPAC lobby, as recently documented by The Nation Magazine’s Eric Alterman.
The Convention planners, with the full knowledge and approval of their candidate, Barack Obama, arranged to have a short video on Carter’s work during the post-Katrina crisis followed by a walk across the stage by Carter and his wife Rosalynn to applause.
Carter’s opponents did not hide their efforts to keep him from speaking. They spoke openly to the media. They disliked Carter’s recognition of Palestinian suffering under the Israeli government’s military and colonial occupation, the blockades, the violations of UN Resolutions and international law. He championed the work of the Israeli and Palestinian peace movements who together have worked out a detailed two-state accord that is supported by a majority of their respective peoples.
Little of what Carter wrote and spoke about has not been said by many prominent Israelis, leading newspapers and columnists for years. Hundreds of Israeli reservists, called refuseniks, have declined to fight in the West Bank or Gaza, though they will defend Israel’s borders to the utmost.
Clearly, there is more freedom to speak about injustice against Palestinians and be critical of government policy in the Knesset and in the Israeli media than there is in the Congress or at American political conventions. It is a shame of the Democratic Party and its new leader that they forgot about civil liberties for differing viewpoints and covered it up for unknowing television viewers with the video scam.
Jimmy Carter knew fully what the Party did to him. But he played the loyal Democrat as a good sport and avoided a ruckus without even a public grumble. Privately, however, he and Rosalynn were very upset, believing that political pandering prevents the United States from playing a key role in peace-making between the powerful Israelis and their Palestinian neighbors.
Pandering is what Barack Obama perfected in his address right after the Denver nomination to the AIPAC convention. During his trip to Israel-Palestine, he refused to comment on the plight of the occupied Palestinians or the humanitarian crisis in encircled Gaza that over the past year’s strife has produced Gazan civilian casualties at a rate of over 400 times those inflicted on Israeli civilians.
In a March 2008 poll by the respected Haaretz newspaper, sixty-four percent of Israelis supported “direct negotiations with Hamas”—the elected government of Gaza that now accepts a two-state solution back to the 1967 borders.
This is an auspicious time for vigorous peacemaking by the new Obama Administration as a steady, honest broker. The serious offer by the Arab League in 2002 for such an agreement, coupled with diplomatic and economic relations with the Arab countries was reiterated dramatically on November 10 with a full page message in the New York Times. Headlined “Peace is Possible: More than 50 Arab and Muslim Countries Agree,” the Center for Middle East Peace reminds Americans of that Arab Peace Initiative, reiterated in 2007, and supported by the fifty-seven member nations of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (www.centerpeace.org). The dramatic declaration, replete with all the flags of these countries, ended with the plea: “Let us not miss this opportunity.”
The Israeli government has not engaged this long-standing offer by the Arab League. Without Barack Obama taking a strong initiative in America’s national interest, it is unlikely that there will be any serious engagement. A sign that he is determined to set the peace process on course is whether he expresses his regrets about the intolerance and suppression of a former president whose views on the Palestinian question he once shared in Chicago before he began the quest for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
Jimmy Carter—the early peacemaker between Israel and Egypt (for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize)—has remained the most steadfast, prominent American friend that the Israeli and Palestinian peoples have in securing a stable peace in that region. The new President Obama should welcome Mr. Carter’s wise and seasoned counsel.
RALPH NADER is the author of The Seventeen Traditions.