WASHINGTON (Apr. 8)
Former President Jimmy Carter, whose major personal achievement in office was the part he played in helping bring about the Camp David accords and the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, has continued to be involved with the Mideast peace process since leaving the Presidency.
But his interest in the Middle East goes back long before his 1976 election to the White House. Writing about his first visit to Israel in 1973 in his new book, “The Blood of Abraham” (Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 257 pages, $15.95), Carter explains:
“For me there is no way to approach or enter Israel without thinking first about the Bible and the history of the land and its people. The names and images have long been an integral part of my life as a Christian, but many of them took on a new and entirely different significance when I became President of the United States and joined in life-or-death negotiations to resolve some of the twentieth century’s problems.
“It is rare indeed to find the distant past so inter-twined with the immediate present, not just for the historians and theologians in their classrooms and studies but for statesmen in the halls of government and military commanders on the field of battle.”
PRESCRIPTION FOR MIDEAST PEACE
In “The Blood of Abraham,” Carter seeks to offer his own prescriptions for achieving peace in the Mideast. Much of the book is based on the former President’s visit in 1983 to Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Lebanon and his talks with people there and with Palestinians both in the West Bank and in Arab countries.
But he also provides the historical background of each country as well as the region as a whole and stresses that Jews, Christians and Moslems are all spiritual descendants of the Hebrew patriarch Abraham.
PROCESS CAME TO A ‘SCREECHING HALT’ UNDER REAGAN
Carter charges that the peace process he began came “to a screeching halt” under President Reagan who he said “has shown little interest in diplomacy as a means of resolving disputes” and instead prefers “the threat or use of American military force.”
While Carter does not say so directly, he obviously believes the Reagan’s Administration’s present position of waiting for the Arabs to come up with a negotiating partner for Israel before the U.S. again becomes directly involved is wrong. Throughout the book he continuously stresses that the U.S. must provide the initiative for peace.
“Antagonists cannot be expected to take the initiative,” he writes. “In the Middle East, hatred and distrust are too ingrained and pride is too great for any of the disputing parties to make concessions and invitations that they know will almost inevitably be rejected.”
Naturally enough, Carter believes that the best way to proceed would be through the process outlined in the Camp David accords to provide “full autonomy” for the Palestinians, eventually leading to self-determination perhaps in confederation with Jordan.
But in a recent interview, Carter noted that the Camp David process might not be acceptable to King Hussein of Jordan and said it was “my preference” that negotiations be based on Reagan’s September 1, 1982 initiative. However, in outlining “basic requirements” for negotiations in his book, Carter said all conditions should be dropped, including the dismantling of Israeli settlements, the Camp David accords United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338, the Reagan initiative and the Fez declaration; and objections to the presence of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Carter believes the U.S. should talk to the PLO which he said would not violate its commitment to Israel not to recognize nor negotiate with it. He believes that conditions are good now for negotiations because of “tremendous amount of common ground” in positions by Israel, some Arab governments and Palestinians.
Despite the belief of some American Jews at the end of Carter’s presidency that he was anti-Israel, his book shows that he is not. He demonstrates an understanding of the history of the Jewish people and of the Holocaust and what the State of Israel means to Jews and shows an appreciation for Israel’s vibrant democracy.
APPEARS TO BLAME ISRAEL
But he does appear to blame Israel, in part, for the failure of progress in Mideast talks. “An Israeli government has yet to demonstrate how it might evolve a peaceful and just coexistence of the Palestinians and the Jews.”
During a recent television interview, Carter denied a suggestion in a Washington Post review of his book that he had “soured” on Israel after the Camp David accords. The former President said that although he believed that Premier Menachem Begin had broken a promise to freeze settlements, he was able to work with Begin later in achieving the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
Carter is not naive about the Arabs, but he appears willing to overlook their positions. He said that during his 1983 visit he found that the Palestinians in the West Bank wanted an end to what they considered Israeli injustices and sought self-determination but supported negotiations, while those outside the West Bank considered Israel their mortal enemy.
But he stresses that the U.S. must recognize that “the PLO, with Yasir Arafat as its elected leader, is the entity responsible for the political future of the Palestinians and for negotiations to secure their rights; no one else can assume these functions without specific authorization from the PLO.”
At the same time, Carter warns that the PLO is heading for a dead end if it continues its policy of violence, predicting even its Arab supporters will tire of them.
VIEW OF SYRIA
The former President concedes that Syria cannot be brought into negotiations for the present, but he does not believe that they can wreck the talks if the U.S. is actively involved. He believes that eventually Syria would be brought into negotiations for a comprehensive solution and he has faith that President Hafez Assad would keep any agreement he makes.
Like the present Administration, Carter feels that King Hussein is the man best able to negotiate with Israel and believes that Saudi Arabia can be cautiously helpful. Yet, in almost an aside, Carter states that the Saudis believe that no non-Moslim country has any right to any part of Palestine and that like the Crusaders, Israel will disappear. Carter is trying to present an American policy of “even-handedness.” “The Arabs must recognize the reality that is Israel, just as the Israelis must acknowledge Palestinian claims to civic equality and their right to express themselves freely in a portion of their territorial homeland,” he writes.
But an “even-handed U.S. policy has always meant pressure on Israel. Israel is not without faults, but to criticize Israel for a lack of progress in the peace process is meaningless until there is an Arab partner, like Egypt, ready to engage in direct negotiations with the Jewish State. Carter knows from his own experience that when this happens even an ultra-nationalist like Begin will make concessions in return for real peace.