Former President Jimmy Carter may have brokered a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt in 1979, but his latest book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid (Simon and Schuster, 2006), isn't likely to win him another Nobel Prize. The root cause of the conflict, Carter states, is "occupation of Arab land" and "mistreatment of the Palestinians," and he suggests that wealthy Jewish lobbyists have purchased the silence of American politicians and the media on the subject.
While Carter may have timed the book to swipe at the Bush administration's Middle East policies (including its refusal to work with Hamas until the militant group acknowledges Israel's existence and renounces terror), it is members from his own camp-including board members from the Carter Center-who are protesting loudest.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued a statement that Carter "does not speak for the Democratic Party." Attorney and Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz went further, charging that Carter himself is "bought, paid for and delivered by Arab money" and challenging the former president to a debate.
Carter publicly declined the invitation last month from Brandeis University to debate Dershowitz-known for his role as appellate advisor in the O.J. Simpson case. "I don't want to have a conversation even indirectly with Dershowitz," Carter said.
But Carter did agree to a speaking engagement at Brandeis Jan. 23. What he doesn't know, according to Dershowitz, is that Dershowitz will be on hand, too: "I have just been invited to give a response to his speech immediately after he's finished. I will be there pointing out every single error in his speech," Dershowitz told WORLD. The Harvard law professor is working on his own book, The Case Against Jimmy Carter and Israel's Other Enemies.
But the debate over the ex-president's book moved beyond rhetoric on Jan. 11, when 14 members of the prestigious Carter Center's advisory board resigned, telling Carter: "We can no longer endorse your strident and uncompromising position. This is not the Carter Center or the Jimmy Carter we came to respect and support."
The board members-primarily Jewish businessmen from Atlanta-were preceded by Kenneth Stein, a former director of the center and founder of its Middle East Program, who left his position as a Carter Center fellow in December in protest of the book.
Stein, who was associated with the center for 23 years, said in a resignation letter that Carter's book is "replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions, and simply invented segments."
One contested statement highlighted by Stein and former board members appears to condone terrorism: "It is imperative that the general Arab community and all significant Palestinian groups make it clear that they will end the suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism when international laws and the ultimate goals of the road map for peace are accepted by Israel."
In a letter to the U.S. Jewish community, Carter condemned acts of terrorism and said he understands "fear among many Israelis that threats against their safety and even their existence as a nation still exist."
Carter engaged in further damage control, meeting with a group of Reformed rabbis in Phoenix to clarify his terminology. "Apartheid," he said, is not based on racism, but is the "forced segregation of two peoples living in the same land, with one of them dominating and persecuting the other."
But Carter has continued to defend his writing, attending book signings in California and making his rounds in the television news circuit. Criticism, he says, is proof that the American media and political system are deaf to the cries of the Palestinians and overwhelmingly biased in favor of Israel-a bias he blames on Jewish and Christian Americans. A Carter Center spokesperson thanked resigning board members for their service while downplaying their roles with the center's work.
At the forefront of Carter's assertions are that Israel's motives revolve around land acquisition, and that very little has been done to stop its expansion. "Israel's continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land," he writes.
UN Resolution 242 calls for an Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 borders, but despite harsh criticism, Israeli settlement building in the West Bank continues. The construction of a border fence has also been labeled a "land-grab" tactic despite claims that it is designed to thwart incoming terrorists.
Dershowitz disagrees with Carter's premise, arguing that the conflict is about terrorism, not land: "The vast majority of Israelis are prepared to give back land. They gave back Gaza and look what happened. It was used for rockets, terrorism and kidnapping. They retreated from Lebanon and look what happened. A thousand rockets were launched from Lebanon."
Dershowitz claims Carter is aware of the bias in his book and "has been bought and paid for by Arab money." The Carter Center, which has received more than $10 million directly from the king of Saudi Arabia, Dershowitz said, "has never done a study on human rights abuses or apartheid in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has roads that are marked for Muslims only."
Saudi Arabia's King Fahd was a longtime contributor to the center before his death in 2005, donating $7.6 million in 1993 alone. Critics also blasted Carter for accepting money and an award from the Zayed Center, an Abu Dhabi-based think-tank accused of anti-Semitic activities.
Former Mideast envoy Dennis Ross, who worked for presidents Carter, Bush Sr., and Clinton, also has joined Carter's critics, charging that Carter used maps Ross created and twisted their meaning. "To my mind, Mr. Carter's presentation badly misrepresents the Middle East proposals advanced by President Bill Clinton in 2000, and in so doing undermines, in a small but important way, efforts to bring peace to the region," Ross said in a Jan. 9 New York Times editorial.
Carter claims the ultimate purpose of his book is to bring new information about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and stir a debate and discussion in order to renew stalled peace talks.
Carter Center resignations and renewed controversy escalated just as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made her way across the Middle East to promote President Bush's new initiatives in Iraq. She was also exploring ways to launch peace talks in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Jordan's King Abdullah told Rice that the United States needs to devote as much energy to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as to the conflict in Iraq, pushing for a two-state solution through an Israeli withdrawal from all territory occupied in 1967 in exchange for full recognition of Israel by Arab countries.
Rice announced that she will bring Palestinian and Israeli leaders together for a summit in the coming weeks, and some speculate that talks may focus on final-status agreements for Palestinian statehood rather than the conditional and step-by-step approach of the largely discarded road map for peace.
The process will not be easy for either leader: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is engaged in a power-struggle with Hamas, while Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is embroiled in a political scandal and still recovering from last summer's politically scarring war in Lebanon. On Jan. 17, his military chief, Dan Halutz, resigned over that war.
High stakes help explain why former Carter allies and fellow Democrats are challenging an ex-president with unusual force and bluntness. In the Middle East especially, words count.