Jimmy Carter &mdash there he goes again

In a defining moment of the 1980 U.S. presidential election, incumbent Jimmy Carter accused Ronald Reagan of opposing a national health insurance program.

“Governor Reagan, again, typically is against such a proposal,” Carter said.

Reagan, apparently waiting for that moment, shook his head, cast Carter a condescending smile and then coined a phrase that entered into American political lore: “There you go again.”

What Reagan packed into those four simple words was the feeling that Carter was rambling along, detached from reality. It was a feeling that resonated well with the American public, which soundly turned Carter out of office a week after that debate.

One couldn’t help think of that line while listening to Carter sum up his recent trip to the Mideast at a speech he gave in Jerusalem on April 21 to the Israel Council on Foreign Relations.

As Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz said on Israel Radio, Carter — with all due respect to the peace treaty he brokered between Israel and Egypt 30 years ago — is “detached from reality.”

Excerpts of the speech testify to this detachment.

n Carter said that among the tentative conclusions from his visit was that “both Israelis and Palestinians share the view that the peace negotiations are not making progress and are unlikely to succeed.”

Fair enough.

But then the Democratic former president went on to say that the Palestinians were convinced that the Israeli government was delaying negotiations because it was “[more] focused on interests in expanding settlements than in making peace.”

n Carter said that not only was there no progress on final status issue negotiations now, but that there was “regression on the road map.”

The regression that he spelled out included more settlements, more roadblocks and more checkpoints.

In fact, there hasn’t been an announcement of more settlements, only tenders to build in existing settlements and in neighborhoods in east Jerusalem.

He then appeared to balance that off by saying that “according to [U.S. General Keith Dayton], there has been progress in the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority in the training of security forces,” a statement clearly designed to leave the impression that although Israel was not fulfilling its road map commitments, the Palestinians were.


The road map calls for consistent, serious attempts by the Palestinians to foil terrorism against Israelis anywhere. Does anybody really believe that is happening?

• Carter, like many before him, spelled out five interlocking conflicts in the region: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the intra-Palestinian conflict, Syria and Israel, Lebanon and Iran’s growing influence. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said, “lies at the center of other crises or challenges in the Middle East.”

Does it? Will solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict solve the battle between the extremists and moderates in Lebanon? Will it genuinely solve the issue of Iran’s growing influence, its push for Middle East hegemony and nuclear arms?

• Carter posited as a given that “all of Israel’s neighbors believe they have much at stake in the success of the negotiations.”

He said that Egypt “is mediating between Hamas and Israel, and Saudi Arabia and Jordan have played key roles in assisting in the peace process.”

OK, grant that Jordan and Egypt are playing key roles. But Saudi Arabia? What key role, exactly, is it playing?

The U.S. and Israel were dying for the Saudi king to make one gesture to Israel in support of the negotiations either before, during or just after Annapolis, to give the process legitimization on the Arab street and boost the Israeli public’s confidence in what awaits at the end — and the king balked. So much for a key Saudi role.

• Carter said that his meeting with Hamas representatives from the West Bank, Gaza and Damascus brought about one change: “They said that they would accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 border if approved by Palestinians — a departure from longstanding Hamas doctrine that refused to recognize two states.”

Shortly after that declaration, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri in Gaza told the Associated Press that Hamas’s readiness to put a peace deal to a referendum “does not mean that Hamas is going to accept the result of the referendum.”

Unwittingly, perhaps, it was Abu Zuhri’s way of saying about Carter what Reagan said all those years ago: There he goes again.

Herb Keinon is a writer for the Jerusalem Post, where this column previously appeared.