Jimmy Carter’s new book – Palestine Peace Not Apartheid – should, by all rights, be headed for the remainder bin. Martin Peretz, editor-in-chief of The New Republic, calls it a “tendentious, dishonest and stupid book.” Norman Finkelstein, one of Israel’s harshest critics, admits the book is “filled with errors small and large, as well as tendentious and untenable interpretations.” There is not a single blurb on the book.
But while it may be tendentious, dishonest, stupid, and filled with errors and untenable interpretations, it could still have an impact. Carter says he’s “going to promote [it] pretty widely,” so his tendentious and erroneous assertions may ripple into the public consciousness.
Responsible people will ignore Carter’s attempt to tar and feather Israel with the word “apartheid.” Israel is the only country in the Middle East where Jews and Arabs live together in peace – a country where Arabs not only vote but serve in the Knesset. But Carter has done something even worse in his book: He egregiously misstates both the relevant diplomatic history and the long-standing U.S. diplomatic position, and then he blames Israel for not complying with it – demonizing Israel even more insidiously.
Carter, Resolution 242 and the Road Map
At the end of his book, Carter has a chapter in which he issues his plan for peace. The chapter includes a discussion of the alleged requirements of UN Security Council Resolution 242 and the Quartet’s Road Map. Carter states that (emphasis added, here and in all following quotes):
The unwavering official policy of the United States since Israel became a state has been that its borders must coincide with those prevailing from 1949 until 1967 (unless modified by mutually agreeable land swaps), specified in the unanimously adopted U.N. Resolution 242, which mandates Israel’s withdrawal from occupied territories. . . . [A]s a member of the International Quartet that includes Russia, the United Nations, and the European Union, America supports the Roadmap for Peace, which espouses exactly the same requirements.
A reader would receive the impression from that paragraph that the 1967 borders are specified in Resolution 242 as Israel’s final borders (perhaps with minor adjustments compensated by land swaps), that the Road Map says the same thing, and that this has been “unwavering U.S. policy.” All of that, as we will demonstrate, is false.
Carter’s false impression is reinforced by the final paragraphs in his book, where he asserts that peace will come only upon Israel’s “Withdrawal to the 1967 border as specified in U.N. Resolution 242 and as promised in the Camp David Accords and the Oslo Agreement and prescribed in the Roadmap of the International Quartet.”
Carter continually refers to the 1967 borders as Israel’s “legal borders.” He concludes that the “bottom line” is Israel must “comply” with the Road Map and with “official American policy” by “accepting its legal  borders.” In exchange, he says, all “Arab neighbors” must “pledge” to honor Israel’s right to live in peace.
Even Charlie Brown wouldn’t kick that football. Abba Eban famously called the 1967 lines “Auschwitz borders,” and he did so for a reason: they are indefensible, and it was precisely their indefensibility that provoked Arab aggression against Israel in the first place.
Nor could a “pledge” of peace be enforced by U.S. or NATO troops (much less UN ones), once Israel moved to indefensible borders – and it would be unreasonable to expect the U.S. or NATO to commit troops to defend such borders (even assuming an Israeli willingness to place its defense into the hands of others).
But there is an even more fundamental objection to Carter’s plan. Contrary to his repeated assertions about Resolution 242 and the Road Map:
• The 1967 borders are not specified as Israel’s “legal borders” in Resolution 242.
• Such borders are neither “espoused” nor “required” nor “prescribed” in the Road Map.
• It has never been “unwavering U.S. policy” that Israel’s final borders must coincide with the 1967 borders, nor that changes in them be “minor,” nor that any changes be compensated with “land swaps.”
• U.S. policy – both in the past and today – contemplates that Israel’s borders will be where Israel’s security requires, not the place from which the prior war commenced – and the U.S. has officially stated that any Palestinian expectation to the contrary is “unrealistic.”
The terms of Resolution 242 do not provide for “land for peace,” much less “land for [a pledge of] peace.” Instead, Resolution 242 envisions that land be exchanged for “secure” boundaries (since such boundaries are the only practical guarantee of peace). Moreover, the drafters of Resolution 242 recognized the 1967 borders were not secure.
The Road Map took this one step further. It did not envision a simultaneous exchange of land for secure borders, but rather a phased-in peace, starting with the dismantlement of terrorist infrastructure (Phase I), followed by a provisional state (Phase II), followed by final status negotiations on borders (Phase III). It did not require that Israel return to the 1967 borders, either at the beginning or the end of that process.
History of U.S. Policy on Israel’s Borders
Since Carter provides no footnotes in his book, he provides no support for the alleged “unwavering official policy of the United States” that he asserts requires an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders.
By reviewing published sources, however, it is possible to trace a straight line from (a) President Lyndon Johnson’s policy in 1967 underlying Resolution 242, to (b) President George W. Bush’s April 14, 2004 letter to Israel – and the picture that emerges directly contradicts Carter’s assertion.
Resolution 242, adopted November 22, 1967, includes as one of its principles the “[w]ithdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” as part of a permanent settlement of the Middle East dispute. But it does not require withdrawal from “all the territories,” nor does it mention the 1967 boundaries. On the contrary, it calls for recognition of “secure” boundaries that will enable Israel to live “free from threats or acts of force.”
The omission of the word “all” or “the” from Resolution 242 was neither accidental nor inadvertent, nor the result of imprecise wording. The words “all” and “the” were proposed and rejected in 1967, after being considered at the highest governmental levels.
As Dore Gold, Israel’s former UN ambassador, has explained, “President Lyndon Baines Johnson himself decided that it was important to stick to this phraseology, despite the pressure from the Soviet premier, Alexei Kosygin, who had sought to incorporate stricter additional language requiring a full Israel withdrawal.”
Gold notes that Kosygin had written to Johnson on November 21, 1967, requesting that the resolution include the word “the” before the word “territories,” to indicate that a complete Israeli withdrawal was required. But Johnson refused the Soviet request. The Soviet deputy foreign minister likewise tried to insert the word “all” before “territories,” but was rebuffed.
The meaning of Resolution 242 – in view of the fact that heads of state were involved in its drafting and the words “all” and “the” were purposely omitted from the resolution – was, according to Gold, “absolutely clear” to those involved in the drafting process:
Joseph P. Sisco, who would serve as the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, commented on Resolution 242 during a Meet the Press interview some years later: “I was engaged in the negotiation for months of that resolution. That resolution did not say ‘total withdrawal.”
George Brown, the British foreign secretary in 1967, summarized Resolution 242 as follows: “The proposal said, ‘Israel will withdraw from territories that were occupied,’ not ‘from the territories,’ which means Israel will not withdraw from all the territories.” Gold notes that both President Johnson and Ambassador Arthur Goldberg made other contemporaneous statements supporting that reading of Resolution 242:
President Johnson’s insistence on protecting the territorial flexibility of Resolution 242 could be traced to his statements made on June 19, 1967, in the immediate wake of the Six-Day War. In fact, Johnsondeclared that “an immediate return to the situation as it was on June 4,” before the outbreak of hostilities, was “not a prescription for peace, but for renewed hostilities.” He stated that the old “truce lines” had been “fragile and violated.” . . .
Ambassador Goldberg would additionally note sometime later another aspect of the Johnson administration’s policy that was reflected in the language of its UN proposals: “Resolution 242 in no way refers to Jerusalem, and this omission was deliberate.”
This policy was also reflected in statements by President Ronald Reagan and Secretary of State George Shultz. Reagan himself stated in his September 1, 1982 address that became known as the “Reagan Plan”: “In the pre-1967 borders, Israel was barely ten miles wide at its narrowest point. The bulk of Israel’s population lived within artillery range of hostile armies. I am not about to ask Israel to live that way again.” . . . .
Shultz was even more explicit about what this meant during a September 1988 address: “Israel will never negotiate from or return to the 1967 borders.”
In the April 14, 2004 letter from President George W. Bush to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the United States reiterated Israel’s right to secure and defensible borders, and expressly noted that a return to the 1967 borders was unrealistic. The letter stated that:
“The United States reiterates its steadfast commitment to Israel’s security, including secure, defensible borders, and to preserve and strengthen Israel’s capability to deter and defend itself, by itself, against any threat or possible combination of threats.In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”
On June 23-24, 2004, the U.S. Senate and House passed Concurrent Resolution 460 stating that each body “strongly endorses the principles articulated by President Bush in his letter dated April 14, 2004 to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon” – expressly referencing the portions of the letter dealing with Israel’s borders.
U.S. Position vs. Jimmy Carter’s Plan
The concept of “secure, defensible borders” differs significantly from the simplistic “land for [a pledge of] peace” doctrine underlying the Geneva Accord, which Jimmy Carter wanted to substitute for the Road Map back in 2003 (and in his book today). The Geneva Accord presumes that a return to the 1967 borders, in exchange for a “peace agreement,” would produce peace. In contrast, “secure, defensible borders” recognizes that an enforceable peace agreement depends on borders Israel can defend on its own.
Defensible borders are also an important American interest, since the U.S. would not want to obligate itself to defend indefensible borders; such borders are themselves an invitation to the aggression supposedly foresworn in a “peace agreement.”
Thus Israeli settlements that command the high ground around Jerusalem (such as Ma’ale Adumim) or provide strategic locations in the West Bank (such as Ariel) are a critical part of any ultimate peace agreement, because they are essential to defensible borders. Such settlements do not preclude a contiguous Palestinian state; but they preclude it from serving as a staging area for a new war.
Given the history of Resolution 242 – the manner in which it was negotiated, the words that do and do not appear in it, and the U.S. statements about it since – it is impossible to assert, as Carterrepeatedly does, that the resolution contemplates (much less requires) a return by Israel to its indefensible 1967 borders, or that Israel is preventing peace by insisting on defensible borders as a part of any peace agreement.
Carter’s book never mentions, much less discusses, the April 14, 2004 letter that assured Israel of the U.S. commitment to secure, defensible borders; promised the U.S. would not support any plan other than the three-phase Road Map; and placed particular emphasis on Palestinian compliance with Phase I as a condition of peace.
In a June 27, 2005 appearance before the American Enterprise Institute, Dore Goldnoted that the emphasis in the April 14, 2004 letter on secure and defensible borders was “not a revolutionary break in the foreign policy of the United States or in U.S.-Israeli relations, but actually laid at the heart of a consensus that existed for many years among Israeli and American leaders. I just want to run you through this becausemany people have either forgotten it or never knew it.“
One would never have thought that among the people who have “either forgotten it or never knew it” would be a former president of the United States.
Carter seeks to ignore both Phase I and Phase II of the Road Map, to move instead immediately to Phase III, and to substitute a withdrawal to the 1967 borders for the secure and defensible borders that Resolution 242 envisions and that the April 14, 2004 letter promises – and then Carter repeatedly castigates Israel for its alleged failure to comply with Resolution 242, the Road Map and a specious “unwavering U.S. policy” that Carter has created himself.
It is hard to imagine a more disingenuous effort than the one Carter has embarked on with his book – but it is of a piece with his reprehensible characterization of Israel as an “apartheid” state.
Rick Richman edits “Jewish Current Issues” at http://jpundit.typepad.com. His front-page essay discussing the April 14, 2004 exchange of letters between the United States and Israel appeared in the September 9, 2005 issue of The Jewish Press.