How quickly one forgets. As the State of Israel prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary this May, the country seems to be suffering a case of collective — and selective — amnesia, forgetting who their true friends are.
During those 60 years, Israel has had to fight for its survival on average one major war every 10 years: the War of independence (1948); the Suez War (1956); the Six Day War (1967): the October (Yom Kippur) War (1973); the invasion of Lebanon (1982); the first intifada (1987-93); the second Lebanon War (2006).
Throughout this tumultuous, and often violent, history, one man has brought lasting peace — at least on one front — to the troubled region; that man is Jimmy Carter. As president of the United States, Carter devoted unprecedented amounts of energy and deployed the full force and prestige of the U.S. diplomacy machine to cement a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. Working against tremendous odds President Carter succeeded where others have failed. The peace agreement he designed gave Israel its first exchange of diplomatic relations with an Arab country, and Egypt is not just any Arab country — it is the most populous Arab country, and until Saddam Hussein decided to invade his neighbors one after another, Egypt had the largest Arab army.
For that alone Israel should be grateful. But people have short memories. Since announcing his intention to meet with Hamas leader Khalid Mash’al in Syria during a tour of the Middle East, Carter has come under very heavy criticism from Israel and its supporters.
Carter, the indefatigable peacemaker, has found himself snubbed by a good number of Israelis, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was unable to find a few minutes to allow for a courtesy call. In an editorial titled ‘Our debt to Jimmy Carter,’ Israel’s Haaretz newspaper writes: “Ehud Olmert, who has not managed to achieve a peace agreement during his public life, and who even tried to undermine negotiations in the past” could not find the time “to meet the American president who is a signatory to the peace agreement with Egypt.”
Now, 60 years into the Arab-Israeli dispute, and a half-dozen wars later, most people would come to realize that there can be no military solution to the crisis. Only a negotiated settlement will put an end to the decades of fighting and bloodshed. The former U.S. president understood that problem. He realized the importance of talking to all sides in a conflict.
Unfortunately, many Israelis failed to see the real courage in Carter. They were quick on the draw, ready to shoot down a man who displayed innovative courageous thinking in a highly complex situation. He went where others have not dared venture. He explored peace.
For the sake of those who have forgotten their history, or perhaps chosen to forget it, it’s always worth reminding them that it was Carter, who as president of the United States, laid the cornerstone to peace in the Middle East when he brought together Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Prime Minister Menahem Begin at the presidential retreat at Camp David, extracting a peace treaty from Egypt and Israel. Imperfect as it might be, this peace treaty has put an end to the state of belligerency between the two countries, and it is still in effect today. And had Egypt not paved the way and entered into a peace treaty with Israel, Jordan would have never been able to follow suit, becoming the second Arab country to recognize Israel and exchange diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.
In fact, had it not been for Jimmy Carter’s initiative to push for peace between the Arabs and Israelis, the visit by Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to the Gulf state of Qatar last April would have never been possible. Just as the exchange of diplomatic relations with Mauritania, the third Arab country to officially recognize Israel, would have never been possible.
Many Israelis have disliked Carter since he published his book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid. As Haaretz says in an editorial: “Israel is not ready for such comparisons, even though the situation begs it” given that the Jewish state is “a country which has a network of segregated roads on which Arabs may not travel.” The Israeli daily also points out that, along with the lack of freedom of movement, Israel’s control over Palestinian lands and their confiscation — especially the continued settlement activity — contravenes all promises Israel has made and the treaties it has signed.
Throughout the six decades of continued conflict, violence has only bred more violence. Violence never offered a solution. A quick glance through the history books will prove the point. The June 1967 Six-Day war gave birth to the Palestinian resistance movement. The 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon propelled the creation of Hizbullah. And the continuing unrest in the West Bank and Gaza gave rise to Hamas.
The longer the crisis is allowed to continue, the more complicated it will become. Hard as it may be to comprehend or accept Jimmy Carter’s initiative, engaging Hamas in talks should be encouraged, if not welcomed. Let’s give peace — and Jimmy Carter — a chance.
Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times and a political analyst in Washington.