Robert Novak admires Jimmy Carter

Robert Novak’s latest anti-Israel hit piece in the New York Post really encapsulates so much of today’s left-of-center conventional wisdom about the conflict that I thought it would be useful to look at it in detail.

November 5, 2007 — Timing the placement into movie theaters the last two weeks of the new documentary “Jimmy Carter Man From Plains” before the proposed Middle East conference in Annapolis this year was not intentional. But the irony of the former president’s clarity on the Palestinian question contrasts sharply with the refusal by George W. Bush to face harsh reality that casts a pall over hopes to conclude his presidency with a diplomatic triumph.

I don’t know about the relation to Annapolis, but it seems to me that Carter, along with Mearsheimer and Walt and myriad other expressions of the point of view that Novak holds are coordinated, and the intent is to prepare the ground for forcing Israel back to the pre-1967 borders regardless of the consequences. The entire campaign is too pat to be unintentional, and judging by the relationships of some of its leading practitioners, there seems to be a Saudi connection.

In the film, Carter repeatedly and unequivocally states what Palestinian and Israeli peace advocates view as undeniable: To achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace with all its benefits for the world, Israel must end its illegal and oppressive occupation of the West Bank. [my emphasis]

Here Novak alludes to the idea that most of the problems of the Middle East — and even the greatest threat to world peace — spring from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The view is absurd, leaving out radical Islamism, the Iranian attempt to gain control of Gulf oil reserves, Sunni-Shiite conflict, Syrian meddling in Lebanon and Iraq, Arab rejectionism of Israel, Saudi sponsorship of international terrorism, horribly repressive and kleptocratic dictatorships in almost all Arab countries, Pakistani-sponsored nuclear proliferation, Turkish designs on northern Iraq (and PKK terrorism against Turkey) and on, and on. None of these has anything to do with the Palestinians or with Israel’s policies.

Is the occupation of the West Bank oppressive? Sure. What would happen if the ‘oppressive’ elements, roadblocks, checkpoints, the security fence, arrests of wanted terrorists, etc. were to stop? I ask — what would happen? And after that, would we be closer to peace or war?

The Palestinians have been quite effective in directing world attention at the denial of rights to West Bank Arabs by Israel, and moving it away from the denial of basic human rights to Israelis — like the right to ride a bus or eat a pizza without getting blown up — by Arabs. But if we ask which came first, terrorism preceded occupation (unless ‘occupation’ is understood as any Jewish presence in Palestine).

[Withdrawal from the West bank] is a prerequisite that neither President Bush nor congressional leaders of both parties can approach for fear of being labeled anti-Israeli or even anti-Semitic (as Carter has been).

Well, one can make a good argument for saying that they would be anti-Israel if they call for a withdrawal in the face of overwhelming evidence that Hamas and Hezbollah — with Syria and Iran directly behind them — are preparing for war, which will be in part waged from the West Bank when the IDF leaves, just like Hamas is doing from Gaza.

I’ll add that extreme anti-Israel points of view, like Carter’s, are hard to explain except as part and parcel of an antisemitic outlook (see my article on Anti-Zionism and antisemitism). But I think the question of antisemitism and accusations thereof is really a red herring, and it is actually welcomed by such as Carter to make it possible to shift the focus of the argument from the truth or falsity of their position to who is ‘muzzling’ whom.

With the end to the occupation not on any participant’s agenda, hopes for substantive accomplishment at Annapolis are dim. Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Oct. 24, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned of “further radicalization of Palestinian politics, of politics in the region” if “we lose the window for a two-state solution.” But she didn’t mention the forbidden words of Israeli removal from the West Bank.

I’m not sure what Rice could have meant by “two-state solution” if it did not include Israeli withdrawal (‘removal’ is a nice touch). The further radicalization that she is talking about, of course, would be a Hamas takeover of the West Bank. Rice does not explain how she can be sure that the ‘solution’ she is hoping for will not immediately be followed by the same Hamas takeover — indeed, especially since this would be a remarkably effective strategy for Hamas to follow.

[Film director Jonathan] Demme told me he intended the documentary as a “portrait in motion” of the 83-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate, “to find out what makes Jimmy Carter tick.” But it became a condemnation of what Demme now calls “land grabbing” from the Palestinian people.

What a surprise.

The film is more assertive than the book, which tends to be prolix in recounting Carter’s experiences with Israel. It was the word “apartheid” in the title that spawned accusations of anti-Semitism against Carter and led 14 members of the Carter Center’s board of counselors to resign.

Actually, the use of the word ‘apartheid’ was generally noted as an example of the degree to which the book distorts reality. I’m not sure that it matters whether Carter is personally antisemitic or is simply doing what he’s paid to do by his Saudi employers.

In the movie, Carter repeatedly declares Israel must end its occupation of Palestine for peace to have a chance. The hecklers at his appearances and confused interviewers only provoke a stubborn Carter, who says chopping up the West Bank is worse than apartheid, just as Palestinian peace seekers told me this year in Jerusalem.

Well, certainly Novak’s “peace seekers” wouldn’t steer him wrong. I wonder if any of the ‘confused’ interviewers asked Carter exactly how Israel’s leaving (or removal from) the West Bank would give peace a chance. Israel left Gaza and southern Lebanon in order to give peace a chance, but Hamas and Hezbollah were having none of it and Israel got war instead.

A broader analysis can be found in the updated U.S. version of “Lords of the Land,” by Prof. Idith Zertal and leading Israeli columnist Akiva Eldar. This scathing account of the occupation, published in Israel in 2005, declares former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan for a security wall was intended to “take hold of as much West Bank territory as possible and block the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.”

If Sharon had wanted “as much West Bank territory as possible” there are simpler ways to get it than to build a wall, much of which follows the green line with bulges to include existing Israeli settlements. Honestly, it’s hard to see how any Palestinian state in the West bank and Gaza could be ‘viable’, regardless of precise borders. As someone said, it’s not likely to be a “little Belgium” in the Middle East. Take, for example, the way Hamas in Gaza directs its resources away from feeding the population and into rocket science.

The security fence, given the interpretation that it is intended to create a permanent border, separates the Israeli and Palestinian populations as they are distributed on the ground. Palestinian extremists do not want a separation between Israeli and Arab populations, because their two best weapons are the demographic increase of a hostile population within the borders of Israel, and the combination of military pressure (terrorism) with diplomacy. The security fence is effective against terrorism, and — if it were to become a border — would separate the populations.

As Israelis, [writers Akiva] Eldar and [Idit] Zertal employ language that not even Carter dares use: “Israel’s lofty demands that Palestinians strengthen their democracy and impose control on extremist organizations is . . . nothing but deceptive talk covering its own deeds, which are aimed at achieving exactly the opposite – of eroding Palestinian society.”

I fail to see how it’s unreasonable to ask the Palestinian leadership to control the extremist organizations, whose goal is to kill Israelis. Here’s some important news for Carter, for Novak, and for myopic extreme leftists like Eldar and Zertal: most Israelis don’t give a damn about ‘Palestinian society’, such as it is. They don’t want to erode it or build it up or impose democracy on it. Mostly, they want it to leave them alone.

Carter goes further in this direction than any other prominent American in “Man From Plains,” and people who wander into a movie theater to see the film may be shocked. It raises questions that must at least be asked for the contemplated conference at Annapolis to have any chance.

The questions are asked, over and over again, in every possible forum, from the UN to the universities, in journals and blogs and newspaper columns like Novak’s. They are not going unasked, by a long shot. What Novak and Carter want is for them to be answered in a particular way: one which uses the language of human rights to support the denial of human rights to Israelis, which privileges Palestinian self-determination over Jewish self-determination, and paves the way for the replacement of Israel with an Arab state.

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