Palestine: Peace or Apartheid? First read the book

A lot of people were quick to pounce on former president Jimmy Carter recently, with no more provocation than the title of his latest book: Palestine: Peace or Apartheid. Some people assumed Carter was accusing the Israeli government of practicing apartheid. And some of those people seem to think anyone who would say such a thing has to be anti-Semitic, on a par with holocaust deniers. Which is clearly ridiculous. If citizens of the world are not free to criticize the governments of the world then we are in big trouble.

I have read Carter's book and found it to be an even-handed examination of the history of peace efforts in the Middle East, told from the unique perspective of someone intimately involved in some of those efforts and well-acquainted with many of the past and present players, including Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas. I flatly disagree with the Washington Post review that appears on the book's Amazon page. There Jeffrey Goldberg writes "Carter makes it clear in this polemical book that, in excoriating Israel for its sins--and he blames Israel almost entirely for perpetuating the hundred-year war between Arab and Jew--he is on a mission from God."

To me that is a gross over-statement of Carter's position. I'm not a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim. I think I have pretty good "pray-dar" when it comes to detecting preachy people on a mission. Carter's perspective does not strike me as religion-based. Indeed, it seems highly pragmatic in many respects, such as the numerous reminders that America has always officially opposed West Bank settlements but failed to prevent them.

And Carter strikes me as highly objective when it comes to conveying the changing realities of daily life for Palestinians. The book is worth reading for that alone. The decline he describes from his first visit in the seventies to the situation today is dramatic and clearly explains a lot of the anger that Arabs feel right now. At the same time, Carter makes it clear that he does not think--and neither do I--that it excuses any of the violence against civilians that Arabs commit.

I read the title as describing the crossroads at which Israel now stands with respect to Palestine. The Israeli government can pursue a path of peace, achieving long-delayed compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 242, which is America's official policy, or it can down a path that will lead to state of apartheid in which Palestinians live under Jewish rule, segregated by their ethnic background, deprived of the rights of full citizenship, of movement, association, ownership, by an array of laws and physical barriers erected to keep Jews separate from Arabs.


  1. Never read the book, but anyone that thinks the good is all on one side and the bad all on the other is clearly closing one eye, at least. From what I can see, the hardliner Israeli point of view is apartheid and the hardliner Palestine point of view is 'genocide or apartheid'. Clearly the only feasible way is something less than either extreme. I certainly cannot help but notice that there is not much evidence of either side, or even the supporters of either side, really trying find and enable any of those middle possiblilites.

  2. I too have read the book and, from what I know (which is far expert), Mr. Cobb's review pretty much hits the mark. Cartone's tone is evenhanded from start to finish. Carter is accused of humungous errors of fact by people like Alan Dershowitz of Harvard, but in his recent op ed attacks on Carter, Dershowitz mentions not a single error.

    The attacks I've read are not on the book, but on its title or on Carter himself.

    The discussion has become so polarized that no one (but Carter, to my knowledge) seems really interested in making peace. The lust is for war. What we are going through is like the 20 buildup of animosity that preceded World War I.

    This is the nuclear age. We need a change.