Jimmy Carter's controversial new book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid (2006) spells out the major issues involved in the Israel-Palestine conflict in language accessible to the average newspaper reader. In other words, the reader doesn't have to navigate philosophical discussions about "realism" vs. "internationalism" vs. "neoconservatism".
But he does manage to define the issues well and put them into their diplomatic context since the Six Day War of 1967. The book has a handy 10-page chronology in the beginning, maps illustrating peace propossals and the political situation at various points, and in the and in the app-endices the texts of UN Resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973) and 465 (1980), the text of the 1978 Camp David Accords and other key diplomatic documents.
This may sound ike something only a libararian or a professor of diplomatic history could love. Or even stay awake to read. Instead, what Carter does here is to provide a kind of handbook that anyone literate in English can use as a reference when confronted with news references to various agreements and historical events. Most importantly, he demystifies the Israel-Palestine conflict. He presents not a struggle of eons based on irreconcilable hatreds, or a hopelessly complex tangle of issues only a diplomat could decipher. He presents a political conflict that can be resolved to the great benefit of both sides.
The basic issues are well-known: Palestinian and Arab government recognition of Israel in its 1949-67 borders; a genuinely sovereign Palestinian state; withdrawal of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank; the Palestinian "right of return"; a resolution of the status of Jerusalem with general access to the holy places of Islam, Judaism and Christianity; an end to violence as a regular political tool on all sides.
There are problems in the details, of course. But the basic problem is to achieve the will on all sides to settle the issues, especially Israelis and Palestinians. And the current Israeli policy of expanding settlements in the West Bank while building a "security wall" that carves up Palestinian territory makes a permanent peace progressively more difficult to achieve. As Carter's book makes clear, the current Westn Bank policy is not likely to impose the peace of a prison on the Palestinias, but to prolong violent conflict indefinitely.
Having read the book, I'm a bit puzzled at some of the reactions I've seen. Sure, he criticizes the positions of Israeli hardliners and the current government. But his criticisms are sound. And the United States has a great interest in seeing the Israel-Palestine conflict peacefully resolved, as the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report emphasized.
The Los Angeles Times reports on new settlement activity in West Bank housing OKd by Richard Boudreaux 12/27/06:
Israel has approved construction of new housing for Jewish settlers in the West Bank, officials said Tuesday, drawing protests from Palestinian leaders and Israeli peace activists who said the decision violated a 3-year-old pledge to the United States to freeze settlement activity.
Israeli officials insisted that there was no such breach, saying the site of the new homes for 100 families in the northern Jordan Valley had been a Jewish settlement since 1981. But Palestinian leaders said the announcement, coming just three days after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas launched an effort to revive peace talks, undermined the cooperative spirit of the weekend meeting. ...
Yariv Oppenheimer, director general of Peace Now, disagreed. "They're effectively establishing a new community," he said. "It's a violation of the road map accord."
The settlements are also illegal under international law because settlements are forbidden in occupied territories. And Israel itself officially recognizes the West Bank as occupied territory. It's exactly stories like this for which Carter's book could be a handy reference for newspaper readers.