Jimmy Carter, America Can Persuade Israel
to Make a Just Peace
[Published in the New York Times, April
In January 1996, with full support from Israel
and responding to the invitation of the Palestine Liberation Organization,
the Carter Center helped to monitor a democratic election in the
West Bank and Gaza that was well organized, open and fair. In that
election, 88 members were elected to the Palestinian National Authority,
with Yasir Arafat as president. Legally and practically, the Palestinian
people were encouraged to form their own government, with the expectation
that they would soon have full sovereignty as a state.
When the election was over, I made a strong effort
to persuade the leaders of Hamas to accept the election results,
with Mr. Arafat as their leader. I relayed a message offering them
full participation in the process of developing a permanent constitutional
framework for the new political entity, but they refused to accept
this proposal. Despite this rejection, it was a time of peace and
hope, and there was no threat of violence or even peaceful demonstrations.
The legal status of the Palestinian people has not changed since
then, but their plight has grown desperate. Ariel Sharon is a strong
and forceful man and has never equivocated in his public declarations
nor deviated from his ultimate purpose. His rejection of all peace
agreements that included Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands, his
invasion of Lebanon, his provocative visit to the Temple Mount,
the destruction of villages and homes, the arrests of thousands
of Palestinians and his open defiance of President George W. Bush's
demand that he comply with international law have all been orchestrated
to accomplish his ultimate goals: to establish Israeli settlements
as widely as possible throughout occupied territories and to deny
Palestinians a cohesive political existence.
There is adequate blame on the other side. Even when
he was free and enjoying the full trappings of political power,
Yasir Arafat never exerted control over Hamas and other radical
Palestinians who reject the concept of a peaceful Israeli existence
and adopt any means to accomplish their goal. Mr. Arafat's all-too-rare
denunciations of violence have been spasmodic, often expressed only
in English and likely insincere. He may well see the suicide attacks
as one of the few ways to retaliate against his tormentors, to dramatize
the suffering of his people, or as a means for him, vicariously,
to be a martyr.
Tragically, the policies of Mr. Sharon have greatly
strengthened these criminal elements, enhanced their popular support,
and encouraged misguided young men and women to sacrifice their
own lives in attacking innocent Israeli citizens. The abhorrent
suicide bombings are also counterproductive in that they discredit
the Palestinian cause, help perpetuate the military occupation and
destruction of villages, and obstruct efforts toward peace and justice.
The situation is not hopeless. There is an ultimate
avenue to peace in the implementation of United Nations resolutions,
including Resolution 242, expressed most recently in the highly
publicized proposal of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah. The
basic premises of these resolutions are withdrawal of Israelis from
Palestinian lands in exchange for full acceptance of Israel and
Israel's right to live in peace. This is a reasonable solution for
many Israelis, having been accepted in 1978 by Prime Minister Menachem
Begin and ratified by the Israeli Knesset. Egypt, offering the greatest
threat to Israel, responded by establishing full diplomatic relations
and honoring Israeli rights, including unimpeded use of the Suez
canal. This set a pattern for what can and must be done by all other
Arab nations. Through constructive negotiations, both sides can
consider some modifications of the 1967 boundary lines.
East Jerusalem can be jointly administered with unimpeded
access to holy places, and the right of return can be addressed
by permitting a limited number of displaced Palestinians to return
to their homeland with fair compensation to others. It will be a
good investment for the international community to pay this cost.
With the ready and potentially unanimous backing
of the international community, the United States government can
bring about such a solution to the existing imbroglio. Demands on
both sides should be so patently fair and balanced that at least
a majority of citizens in the affected area will respond with approval,
and an international force can monitor compliance with agreed peace
terms, as was approved for the Sinai region in 1979 following Israel's
withdrawal from Egyptian territory.
There are two existing factors that offer success
to American efforts at persuasion.
One is the legal requirement that American weapons
are to be used by Israel only for defensive purposes, a premise
certainly being violated in the recent destruction in Jenin and
other towns of the West Bank. Richard Nixon imposed this requirement
to stop Ariel Sharon and Israel's military advance into Egypt in
the 1973 war, and I used the same demand to deter Israeli attacks
on Lebanon in 1979. (A full invasion was launched by Ariel Sharon
after I left office.)
The other persuasive factor is approximately $10
million daily in American aid to Israel. President George Bush Sr.
threatened this assistance in 1992 to prevent the building of Israeli
settlements between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
I understand the extreme political sensitivity in
America of using persuasion on the Israelis, but it is important
to remember that none of the actions toward peace would involve
an encroachment on the sovereign territory of Israel. They all involve
lands of the Egyptians, Lebanese and Palestinians, as recognized
by international law.
The existing situation is tragic and likely to get
worse. Normal diplomatic efforts have failed. It is time for the
United States, as the sole recognized intermediary, to consider
more forceful action for peace. The rest of the world will welcome