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Like many Indians, I have admired the grit, determination and indomitable will of Israel and its ability to withstand the might of much larger countries. It has developed its economy, become a leader in many technologies. It is a friend of India and a major supplier of advanced arms to it. The people of Israel are tolerant, gutsy and friendly towards India.
Yet, like many, I believe that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian Arabs within Israel and those living in the bits and pieces of land that are called Palestine today, is highly discriminatory. It is no different from South Africa’s apartheid regime. It is the root cause of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the growing instability in west Asia and the spread of terrorism in the world. Israel’s influence on American foreign policy is disproportionate to its size. Jimmy Carter is the first American leader to acknowledge Palestine-Israel as the core problem in west Asia and Israel’s undue influence on American policies in his book, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid.
Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States of America, deeply religious and sincere, was elected to succeed the venal Richard Nixon (not counting his replacement by Gerald Ford ). He is a man of peace, for which he won the Nobel Prize when Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin signed a peace agreement under his auspices. He should be disappointed with the treaty. The peace treaty signed in 1978 “removed Egypt ’s considerable strength from the military equation of the Middle East and thus (it) permitted itself renewed freedom to pursue the goals of a fervent and dedicated minority of its citizens to confiscate, settle and fortify the occupied territories”.
There have been outraged reactions to the book but it is on the best-seller list. One of his top aides resigned and accused him of distorting facts. Some (including Indians) have dismissed Carter as a bumbling old man, an ineffective president, whose views are of no account. The book uses facts to describe the situation in Palestine. Its undertone is about the enormous power of the Israeli and Jewish lobbies with politicians and the media in the US that enables Israel to violate international and bilateral agreements. The book deserves serious study by political leaders and others.
Israel has taken over increasing amounts of land and water that belong to the Palestinians, built a wall through Palestinian lands, and, by controlling access, made Palestinians into captive markets for Israeli products, even in preference to Palestinian ones. “Including the Israeli-occupied Jordan River Valley, the wall would take in large areas of land for Israel and encircle the Palestinians who remained in their remnant of the West Bank”. Even the World Court “determined that the Israeli construction of the segregation wall in the occupied Palestinian West Bank was illegal”.
In 1973, like so many of us, Carter was “convinced that the Israelis were dominant but just, the Arabs quiescent because their rights were being protected, and the political and military situation destined to remain stable until land was swapped for peace”. None of this is any longer the case.
Palestine in 1922 had 84,000 Jews and 670,000 Arab Muslims and Christians. By 1947, there were 600,000 Jews (by immigration) and 1.3 million Arabs. After the 1948 war, about 420 Palestinian villages in what became Israel were destroyed and some 700,000 Palestinian residents fled or were driven out. The Palestinian Liberation Organization was formed in 1964, when Israel announced the plan to divert water from the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan river to irrigate Western Israel and the Negev desert. (Water from the upper Jordan river valley is channelled almost exclusively to Israelis, and Arabs are prohibited from digging new wells or deepening ones dried because of adjacent wells dug by Jewish settlers). By then, there were 1.3 million Palestinian refugees, one-third in Jordan and 150,000 each in Lebanon and Syria, and most others in the West Bank and Gaza refugee camps. After the 1967 conflict, 320,000 more Arabs left areas occupied by Israel in the Golan Heights, Gaza and the Sinai, Jerusalem and the West Bank. Thus the Palestinians are either refugees in other countries or huddled in small enclaves and refugee camps.
There is enormous discrimination. Thus “each Israeli settler uses five times as much water as a Palestinian neighbour, who must pay four times as much per gallon”. The Palestinian “economic system had been forced back into the pre-industrial age and their territory broken into ever-smaller fragments”. Israeli officials brand Palestinians as terrorists. “They could not assemble peacefully, travel without restrictions, or own property without fear of its being confiscated by a multitude of legal ruses.” Even funds “sent by the American government for humanitarian purposes were intercepted by the authorities and used for the benefit of the Israelis”. Israel claimed that some of these funds might have otherwise been diverted to fund Arab terrorism and Israeli control was necessary to prevent abuses. Israeli officials “acknowledged a concern about surplus chickens, oranges, flowers, grapes, olives, or other agricultural goods being produced in the West Bank and Gaza that might damage the Israeli farm economy.”
Carter concludes that the “root causes of the conflict — occupation of Arab land, mistreatment of the Palestinians, and acceptance of Israel within its legal borders — are yet to be addressed….A major impediment to progress is Washington’s strange policy that dialogue on controversial issues is a privilege to be extended only as a reward for subservient behaviour and withheld from those who reject US demands”.
Carter proposes that the security of Israel must be guaranteed. Israel must resolve its internal debate to define its permanent legal boundary. The sovereignty of all west Asian nations and sanctity of international borders must be honoured.
“Israel ’s continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land. In order to perpetuate their occupation, Israeli forces have deprived their unwilling subjects of basic human rights.” He says that “the condoning of illegal Israeli actions from a submissive White House and US Congress during recent years, and the deference with which other international leaders permit this unofficial US policy in the Middle East to prevail” have contributed to the perpetuation of violence and regional upheaval.
Israelis have options. None of them is attractive to at least some Israelis. Israel could forcibly annex and absorb all of Palestine. This would violate international standards and the Egypt-Israel accords. Non-Jews would become a powerful swing vote in Israel. A second option is to perpetuate the present system of apartheid, with two peoples occupying the same land but completely separated from each other — Israelis remaining totally dominant and suppressing Palestinians’ basic rights. This will aggravate local and international tensions further. A third option is withdrawal to the 1967 border, as specified in the United Nations Resolution 42 and in subsequent accords, the Oslo agreement and the roadmap approved by some great powers, including the US. This is the most attractive option and the only one that can be a basis for peace. However, Israel must comply with international law, the roadmap for peace, official American policy (accepting two states) and wishes of most Israelis, and honour commitments to accept its legal borders.
Carter has written a definitive book on the Palestine question. He has, over many years, studied the issues in depth, made many visits to Israel and other Arab countries, met many on all sides and talked with various administrations in the US and other Western governments. He is the first American leader to be so outspoken. His observations deserve great respect. Dismissing them as those of a senile old do-gooder will dig the grave for peace in this volatile region and the world.