Carter's model for Mideast
Thomas Oliphant, 9/21/2003
IN TOWN the other day for a significant anniversary, former President
Jimmy Carter said he had arisen earlier than usual to ''reread'' the nearly
failed ''road map'' for still-elusive peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Expecting questions from the press about the current murderous mess, Carter
said he wanted to be extra careful in choosing his words and also about
asserting that what he had once done could be replicated now.
Right there, he put
his finger on the most important difference between the atmosphere surrounding
the stunning Camp David accords, negotiated 25 years ago last week, and
the atmosphere today.
As he and all the
surviving figures -- including Israelis and Egyptians -- of those amazing
13 days in Maryland that produced the peace treaty between Israel and
Egypt the following year gathered, they provided a dramatic contrast with
the passive, reactive bunch mismanaging today's impasse.
Typically, the Carterites
and their colleagues from abroad spent an entire day, not in mutual congratulation,
but in a searching reexamination of their intricate negotiations and their
possible relevance to the present impasse.
More than anything,
all the important breakthroughs and failures demonstrate again and again
that involved activist presidents (Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, Carter,
George H.W. Bush, and Clinton) can make a positive difference and that
passive, reactive presidents (Reagan and George W. Bush) rarely do.
As much as anything,
the Camp David accords were a triumph of the will to succeed over the
apparent impossibility of success. This will and this activism was most
apparent as the obstacles to agreement between the late Israeli prime
minister, Menachem Begin, and the martyred Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat,
Nearly every aspect
of the agreement (above all the commitment to real peace and acceptance
and the return of Egyptian territory on the Sinai peninsula occupied since
the 1967 and 1973 wars) had been negotiated save only the presence of
14 Israeli settlements on the land, occupied by some 3,000 people. The
impasse was complicated by the fact that Begin had literally sworn before
God that he would never dismantle a single settlement.
Carter did not let
that seemingly impossible position frustrate him. At the 11th hour, he
pressed Begin to agree to let the matter of the Sinai settlements be considered
by the Israeli parliament, and to neither attempt to influence the Knesset
judgment nor to block the implementation of a decision by its members
to dismantle the settlements.
Begin agreed. The
Knesset vote was overwhelming, and there was peace between Israel and
the largest, most powerful Arab nation that had also broken its military
ties to the Soviet Union. This was land for peace, and the Knesset's vote
showed that with a chance for genuine, secure peace Israeli politics could
easily overcome party and doctrinal obstacles to saying yes.
Times have certainly
changed. The adoption of terror tactics on behalf of the Palestinians
is certainly one big change, along with its encouragement and toleration
by Yasser Arafat's bankrupt movement and too many Arab countries -- in
a way mirroring the ''rejectionism'' of the PLO and states like Syria
and Saudi Arabia 25 years ago. Only Jordan has joined Egypt in those years.
However, Carter himself
(now a figure of controversy in much of Israel) also cites the dramatic
change in the settlement situation, a fact often neglected by many Americans.
At the time of the accords, there were two dozen or so, all but a couple
right near Jerusalem, with a total of about 5,000 people. Today, there
are roughly 125 settlements, with a population approaching 250,000, and
they are spread out. Each comes equipped with its own protective garrison
of Israeli soldiers, not to mention the roads connecting them and making
a mockery of the so-called Green Line (the pre-1967 war borders of Israel).
For the record, Carter
believes the Green Line must be adjusted; he also believes that Arafat
is useless as a negotiator, though he insists that realism demands that
any other Palestinian leader will have to have his support. And of course
he believes terror and the organizations that use it must be eradicated.
Even more of a problem,
Carter believes, is that the end of the Cold War has removed a huge reason
for ceaseless US activism. He recognizes that North Korea, Iraq, and Afghanistan
are legitimately center-stage right now, even though he also realizes
international terrorism that threatens America gets much of its impetus
from the impasse.
of a new US initiative focus on a massive intervention in the Palestinian
government -- either with money to stabilize the economy and social services
or even with troops under international auspices to help bust the terrorist
groups. Instead, the most likely result is more of the same. In 1978,
that kind of impotent US passivity was considered unacceptable.
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Globe Newspaper Company.