By Jimmy Carter
Thursday, January 18, 2007; A23
I am concerned that public discussion of my book "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid" has been diverted from the book's basic proposals: that peace talks be resumed after six years of delay and that the tragic persecution of Palestinians be ended. Although most critics have not seriously disputed or even mentioned the facts and suggestions about these two issues, an apparently concerted campaign has been focused on the book's title, combined with allegations that I am anti-Israel. This is not good for any of us who are committed to Israel's status as a peaceful nation living in harmony with its neighbors.
It is encouraging that President Bush has announced that peace in the Holy Land will be a high priority for his administration during the next two years. On her current trip to the region, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called for an early U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian meeting. She has recommended the 2002 offer of the 23 Arab nations as a foundation for peace: full recognition of Israel based on a return to its internationally recognized borders. This offer is compatible with official U.S. policy, previous agreements approved by Israeli governments in 1978 and 1993, and the "road map" for peace developed by the "quartet" (the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations).
The clear fact is that Israel will never find peace until it is willing to withdraw from its neighboring occupied territories and permit the Palestinians to exercise their basic human and political rights. With land swaps, this "green line" can be modified through negotiations to let a substantial number of Israeli settlers remain in their subsidized homes east of the internationally recognized border. The premise of exchanging Arab territory for peace has been acceptable for several decades to a majority of Israelis but not to a minority of the more conservative leaders, who are unfortunately supported by most of the vocal American Jewish community.
These same premises, of course, will have to be accepted by any government that represents the Palestinians. A March 2006 poll by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah found 73 percent approval among citizens in the occupied territories, and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has expressed support for talks between President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and pledged to end Hamas's rejectionist position if a negotiated agreement is approved by the Palestinian people.
Abbas is wise in repeating to Secretary Rice that he rejects any "interim" boundaries for the Palestinian state. The step-by-step road-map formula promulgated almost three years ago for reaching a final agreement has proved to be a non-starter -- and an excuse for not making any progress. I know from experience that it is often more difficult to negotiate an interim agreement, with all its future uncertainties, than to address the panoply of crucial issues that will have to be resolved to reach the goal of peace.
Given these recent developments and with the Democratic Party poised to play a more important role in governing, this is a good time to clarify our party's overall policy in the broader Middle East. Numerous options are available as Congress attempts to correlate its suggestions with White House policy, and there is little doubt that the basic proposals of the Iraq Study Group provide a good foundation on which Democrats might reach something of a consensus (recognizing that individual lawmakers could still make their own proposals on details). This party policy would provide a reasonable answer to the allegation that Democrats have no alternatives of their own to address the Iraq quagmire.
A key factor in an Iraq policy would be strong demands on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government to cooperate in ending sectarian violence, prodded by a clear notice of plans for troop withdrawals. A commitment to regional cooperation, including opportunities for Iran and Syria to participate, would be beneficial in assuring doubtful Iraqis that America will no longer be the dominant outside power shaping their military, political and economic future.
Although Israel's prime minister has criticized these facets of the Iraq Study Group's report, the most difficult recommendation for many Democrats could be the call for substantive peace talks on the Palestinian issue. The situation in the occupied territories will be a crucial factor, and it would be helpful for both the House and Senate to send a responsible delegation to the West Bank and Gaza to observe the situation personally, to meet with key leaders and to ascertain the prospects if peace talks can be launched.
I am convinced that, with bipartisan support, this is a good opportunity for progress.
The writer was the 39th president and is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. His most recent book is "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid."