Carters Mideast remarks show hes out of touch

Former President Jimmy Carter spoke out about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as he visited Texas last week. He spoke of U.S. bias toward Israel, of Arab animosity toward the United States because of a lack of progress in the peace process, and he focused his criticism on Israeli settlement policy.

His remarks were embarrassing.

It’s difficult, as a former supporter of President Carter, to make this statement. It’s difficult to be so critical of a man who in so many aspects of his public life has been a role model.

Yet when a public figure takes positions that are so out of sync with objective fact and reality, even former supporters in the Democratic Party need to speak up.

This is not the first time in recent years that Carter has made his own biased view of the conflict public. Just last year at the ceremony marking the signing of the Yossi Beilin-Yasser Abed Rabbo Geneva initiative, Carter mentioned Palestinian terrorism in passing but left the strong impression that the bulk of the blame for a stalled peace process rests with Israeli colonization of Gaza and the West Bank.

In Texas, the ex-president went further. First he linked animosity in the Arab world toward the United States to the lack of progress in dealing with the Palestinian issue. This is like linking Arab animosity toward the United States with the sun rising every morning.

Yes, our support for Israel’s security creates difficulties for us in the Arab world. But no, Arab animosity toward the United States is far from simply a function of U.S.-Israel friendship. Moreover, for perhaps a clear majority in the Arab world (and a clear majority of Palestinians today), nothing short of American support for Israel’s disappearance would suffice. Finally, as the vast number of foreign policy advisers in both parties would agree, the No. 1 (though not the only) roadblock to progress on the peace process is the failure of any Palestinian leader to stop the violence and negotiate a compromise agreement in good faith.

Carter also criticized the current administration for always supporting the government of Ariel Sharon and contrasted that stand with the more “balanced” record of past administrations. Here, too, Carter is simply wrong.

Israeli government decisions may not always be deserving of U.S. support, and the Bush administration has publicly criticized many of those decisions. Witness President Bush’s remarks in the heat of the second intifada in April 2002, and last years’ open pressure on Israel to change the course of the security fence. The Bush administration is also the first American administration to forthrightly endorse a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution to the current conflict.

Finally, Carter returned to the issue of settlement policy in again criticizing the Bush administration for its lack of balance. This is like criticizing the United States for not being balanced because it sided with Czechoslovakia not Germany during the Munich crisis of 1938.

In the end, what makes the Carter analysis of the Middle East crisis so embarrassing is its absolute lack of fairness. The former president totally ignores the history of the 2000 Camp David negotiations and the subsequent White House meetings of January 2001 when he places the lion’s share of the blame for the collapse of the peace process on Israel. He seems to be oblivious to the clear history of Arafat’s duplicity and his support for the most odious forms of terror.

When he is being most “fair,” our ex-president seems to equate Israeli retaliation with the most savage of Palestinian terrorism against women and children. He appears to choose to ignore the viciousness of the total rejection of Israel’s right to exist by not just Hamas but by much of the Palestinian political universe.

President Carter, how could you be so blind? No, Israel is not always right. But how could your analysis of the root causes of this conflict so ignore the dysfunctional nature of much of Palestinian nationalism?

Democrats, like myself, are not anxious to criticize our ex-president in such blunt terms. It saddens us to publicly criticize the views of a man who clearly cares deeply about his country and the importance of public service. But to fail to do so may leave the impression that he speaks for the Democratic Party. He does not. And his positions on this issue stand in direct contradiction to our last four presidential nominees, as well as our current presumptive nominee, Sen. John Kerry.

Rabbi David Forman is chairperson of Israeli Rabbis for Human Rights.