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In Israel, Carter book not worthy of outrage

By Susan Taylor Martin
Published February 4, 2007


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JERUSALEM - Israel's legendary hotel, the King David, is celebrating its 75th anniversary. Among the displays are a 1979 photo of two famous guests, U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

Begin is speaking emphatically while Carter, lips pursed, looks as if he can't wait to get away. Although the two were working on a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, the photo is revealing - Carter and Begin couldn't stand each other.

Carter's "animus toward the late Israeli leader is limitless," Emory University professor Kenneth Stein writes, and it helps explain Carter's attitude toward Israel in his controversial new book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.

Carter argues that Israel's security wall and expansion of Jewish settlements on occupied land have undermined prospects of a viable Palestinian state. Playing down the Arabs' own role, he claims that the failure to achieve peace in the Middle East is largely due to intransigence by Begin and successive Israeli leaders.

The animosity between the two men began during the Egyptian peace negotiations, when Begin learned of maneuvering to wring more concessions from Israel. Distrusting Carter, Begin refused to allow any talk of Israel relinquishing the West Bank or parts of Jerusalem annexed after the 1967 Mideast War.

That killed Carter's hopes of a broader Arab-Israeli peace deal and "he never forgave Begin," Stein writes. Carter even blamed Begin in part for his loss to Ronald Reagan, as many American Jews, upset by the pressure on Israel, turned to other candidates.

A former director and fellow of the Carter Center, Stein resigned in December to protest what he calls "egregious errors" in the book.

Carter has backpedaled on one point, admitting he was "stupid" to suggest Palestinians are justified in using terror tactics. But he still insists there will be no peace until Israel withdraws from all occupied land.

The book has caused an uproar in the United States where critics - most of them Jewish - accuse Carter of anti-Semitism. Others, though, applaud him for calling attention to the suffering of Palestinians, almost 70 percent of whom live in poverty.

Given the outcry, I was curious to learn what reaction Carter's book has caused here in Israel. The answer: not much.

"I'm not reading books on the modern Middle East because if you live here, you see what they all get wrong," said Marcel Marcus, owner of a book shop near the King David. "If it weren't for all the controversy, I wouldn't even look at it. Now I'll flip through it."

His assistant, Avital Porat, doesn't plan to do even that. A Hebrew University student, she and her friends "try not to discuss politics too much because it's too depressing," she said.

Indeed, Israelis acknowledge their country is in a malaise.

The radical groups Hamas and Hezbollah are still holding three captured Jewish soldiers. Israel's president faces trial on rape charges. The justice minister was convicted of sexual misconduct for forcibly kissing a young female soldier. And Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is under investigation in a banking scandal.

"Carter must come and live here and see what's going on and then he can write a book," said Rachel Schwarz, a retiree browsing in Marcus' store.

Palestine: Peace or Apartheid is doing better in the Arab part of Jerusalem, where customers have snapped up all 60 copies at one store. But Arab readers don't necessarily agree that Carter is a great friend of Arabs.

"My opinion is that he's the same as Bush," said Nihad Mune, a clerk. "Carter, he did not do anything special for the Palestinians."

Despite Carter's high profile, a lot of people here don't even remember him. As part of its anniversary celebration, the King David has lined the floor of its lobby with the enlarged signatures of notable guests.

Among those taking center stage are CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Carter's signature is way down the hall - by the stairs to the rest rooms.

Susan Martin can be reached at susan@sptimes.com.

[Last modified February 4, 2007, 00:38:02]


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