PALESTINE -- PEACE NOT APARTHEID
THE REAGAN YEARS, 1981-89
In addition to my involvement while president, I observed very carefully the developments in the Middle East during the following years and visited the region several times to consult with political leaders, academics, and private citizens. These activities were part of the programs of The Carter Center, an organization that my wife, Rosalynn, and I founded to address issues that we considered to be important to our own country and to others. Our center now has projects in sixty-five nations, including thirty-five in Africa, dealing with health, agriculture, the enhancement of democracy, and the promotion of peace.
In the Holy Land, I found that the situation was changing dramatically. Within a few months after I left the White House, the Israelis launched an air strike that destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor, announced the "annexation" of the Golan Heights, and escalated their efforts to build Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank and Gaza. All these acts were widely condemned in the Arab world, and the Israeli people were divided over the wisdom of this militant policy.
The Israelis invaded Lebanon in 1982, and within a year the PLO and its leaders had been forced to leave the country. For the next decade, the members of the organization were dispersed in many Arab nations, while they continued to build diplomatic ties throughout the world and again emerged as the sole remaining political symbol for Palestinian self-determination.
There was little effort by the United States to promote an overall peace agreement, but President Reagan, who wanted to make a clear declaration of his policy in the Middle East, called to ask if I would work with his assistants on it. His statement would include his complete support for the implementation of the Camp David Accords, and I was pleased to assist with the following portion of the speech:
We base our approach squarely on the principle that the Arab Israeli conflict should be resolved through negotiations involving an exchange of territory for peace. This exchange is enshrined in United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which is, in turn, incorporated in all its parts in the Camp David agreements. U.N. Resolution 242 remains wholly valid as the foundation stone of America's Middle East peace effort.
It is the United States' position that -- in return for peace -- the withdrawal provision of Resolution 242 applies to all fronts, including the West Bank and Gaza.
President Reagan knew that the Middle East could be stable only if Israel could have lasting peace with her neighbors and that this would not be possible if the occupied territories were retained and colonized.
Our team at The Carter Center continued to monitor the interrelated events in the Middle East, always with the goal of keeping alive the faltering peace process. Two events discouraged any strong and sustained Middle East peace efforts by the United States. In 1986, leaders in Washington were embarrassed when it was disclosed that Israeli intermediaries had assisted the United States in exchanging weapons to Iran for the release of U.S. hostages being held in Lebanon, with proceeds from the arms sales used to support the Contra war in Nicaragua. And late in 1987 the Likud settlement policy in the occupied territories increased confrontations between Jews and Arabs, and harsher treatment of dissidents led to an outbreak of organized civil violence. Known as the intifada, this sustained, independent, and forceful action of young Palestinians surprised both the Israelis and the PLO.
My first visit to Israel after leaving the White House illustrates how circumstances and attitudes had changed since I went there as governor ten years earlier and as president in the late 1970s. On arriving in Jerusalem in the spring of 1983, Rosalynn and I paid our third visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, where we heard expressions of gratitude that the negotiations at Camp David had led to peace with Egypt. A few minutes later I was on my way to Prime Minister Begin's office in Israel's parliament building.
As a private citizen, I expected that my personal relationship with Israeli leaders and especially with Prime Minister Begin would be different. Although his nation and mine shared many beliefs and political goals, he and I had frequently been at odds across the negotiating table. It was no secret that Begin and I had strong public disagreements concerning the interpretation of the Camp David Accords and Israel's recent invasion of Lebanon. Unfortunately, these disputes had resulted in some personal differences as well.
Now we were together again, and as had always been my custom, I expressed myself with frankness on some of the more controversial issues. I first congratulated Begin on the manner in which he had honored the difficult terms of the peace treaty concerning the withdrawal of Israeli forces and dismantling of settlements in Egypt's Sinai. Then, as he sat without looking at me, I explained again why we believed he had not honored a commitment made during the peace negotiations to withdraw Israeli forces and to refrain from building new Israeli settlements in the West Bank. I described my disappointment that he had not been willing to grant the Palestinians any appreciable degree of independence or responsibility in the occupied territories, and I urged him to make it plain to the Egyptians and Jordanians that Israel would observe the basic elements of U.N. Resolution 242 -- crucial commitments that he and I had made to our people.
I paused, expecting the prime minister to give his usual strong explanation of Israeli policy. He responded with just a few words in a surprisingly perfunctory manner and made it plain that our conversation should be concluded. I did not know whether I had aggravated him more than usual, whether he wanted to reserve his arguments for current American officials, or whether he was preoccupied. Most likely, it was a combination of all three reasons.
We had been sitting in a small, sparsely adorned room on the lower level of the Knesset building. The exchanges had been cool, distant, and nonproductive. As I left, I noticed that the adjacent room was large, brightly lighted, attractive, and vacant. Ironically, the number on the door was 242.
Rosalynn and I spent several days in Israel and the occupied territories, meeting with leaders and private citizens. It was very different from the place we had first come to know ten years earlier. The sense of unanimity among Jewish citizens and the relaxed confidence of 1973 were gone. Despite their military triumph in Lebanon, many Israelis were deeply concerned that the flame of victory had turned to ashes. Military superiority that was crucial for the defense of the nation was not adequate for Israel to subdue its neighbors. The successes had been very costly in both financial and human terms, and after each war and a brief interlude of peace, both sides had plunged into a new round of violence.
Men and women in uniform were now seen everywhere, and the tension between different kinds of people was obvious. The former stream of visitors from Jordan had dried to a trickle, and visits from Egypt were almost nonexistent despite the peace treaty that had established open borders and free trade. Even among the most optimistic public officials, there seemed to be little hope for any permanent agreement that could bring peace and stability. In fact, with some justification, the Israelis were increasingly skeptical about the attitudes of all foreign governments. There were sharp differences between the policies of the United States and Israel, as demonstrated vividly by Israel's peremptory rejection of peace proposals made by Secretary of State George Shultz and President Reagan's recent speech endorsing our nation's undeviating Middle East policy that presumed Israel's withdrawal from occupied territories.
Speaking officially for the Likud coalition, for instance, Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir expressed his belief that the root of the Middle East conflict had nothing to do with Israel and that a solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict was not likely to affect regional stability. He minimized the importance of the Palestinian problem and considered Jews to be the natural rulers of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, with a right and obligation to continue populating the area. The proper homeland for Palestinian Arabs was to be found in Jordan, and the pre-1967 borders of Israel were of no consequence. Ariel Sharon went further, having called for the overthrow of King Hussein in favor of a Palestinian regime in Jordan, even if headed by Yasir Arafat. He added that the east bank of the Jordan is "ours but not in our hands, just as East Jerusalem had been until the Six-Day War."
Although they continued to state officially that any peace talks should take place within the Camp David framework, most members of Begin's ruling Likud Party never approved the concessions he had made during the intense negotiations with President Sadat and me. Both Israel and Egypt had honored the terms of the peace treaty involving the Sinai, but the original substance of the Accords relating to the other occupied territories had been abandoned or modified in vital ways. Former Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban remarked, "Unfortunately, it is clear that Israeli governmental policy is so distant from Camp David that when Likud spokesmen invoke the agreement, they are rather like Casanova invoking the Seventh Commandment."
My primary contact in Israel was Ezer Weizman, and we enjoyed frequent telephone conversations and personal visits. When we visited their beautiful home overlooking the bay in the ancient Roman city of Caesarea Maritima, Ezer and his wife, Reuma, invited a few of their neighbors to meet us, partially to demonstrate how far some of the highly educated and relatively wealthy Israelis had deliberately removed themselves from the situation involving Palestinians in the West Bank. He had been expelled from the Likud Party because of his unrestrained condemnation of the party's violations of the peace accords that he had helped to negotiate and was contemplating the formation of a new party to be led by him, Moshe Dayan, and others who had participated with us at Camp David. Remarkably outspoken and independent of any political restraints, Weizman aroused strong animosities and admiration, and in 1993 he was elected president of Israel. Until his death, he remained my closest personal friend in the Holy Land and an invaluable source of information and advice.
In addition to an estimated hundred thousand people who had died in the various wars between Israel and her neighbors, large numbers of Christian and Muslim Arabs were either displaced from their homes or put under military rule as more and more of their territory was occupied and retained. This forced relocation intensified the fear, hatred, and alienation on both sides and made more difficult any reconciliation. None of the wars had resolved either of the two basic causes of continuing conflict: land and Palestinian rights.
While on this visit to Jerusalem, I also had a personal taste of how the Israeli-Palestinian relationships had changed since my earlier tours. As usual, I got up quite early and began a jog around the old city, in East Jerusalem and beyond -- an intriguing route of ancient sites and steep hills. I was accompanied by an American Secret Service agent and two young Israeli soldiers, who insisted on leading the way. We proceeded from our hotel to the Jaffa Gate, then turned north around the outside of the ancient walls. As we were running eastward alongside the Jericho road, I saw a group of elderly Arab men sitting by the curb, reading their newspapers. The sidewalk was almost empty and wide enough for us to pass easily, but one of the soldiers cut to the right and knocked all of the newspapers back into the faces of the startled readers. Some of the papers fluttered to the ground. I stopped to apologize to the old men, but they could not understand me. Then I told the soldiers either to let me run alone or not to treat anyone else in a belligerent manner. They reluctantly agreed, insisting that one could never tell what was being hidden behind newspapers. This was a sharp demonstration of our different perspectives.
The domestic political debates among Israelis were more vitriolic than I had previously observed, and it was uncertain what kind of government the people preferred. Even those who were most willing to end the military occupation, grant the Palestinians basic rights of citizenship, honor the terms of U.N. Resolution 242 and the Camp David Accords, and commence negotiations without patently unacceptable conditions were hard put to detect any reliable signs of encouragement from leaders in the Arab-Palestinian camp. Some leaders in Israel and in Arab countries expressed concern that during recent years America's policy in the Middle East had consisted of a series of illogical flip-flops, with a lack of resolve to enforce agreements that had been consummated.
It became increasingly clear that there were two Israels. One encompassed the ancient culture and moral values of the Jewish people, defined by the Hebrew Scriptures with which I had been familiar since childhood and representing the young nation that most Americans envisioned. The other existed within the occupied Palestinian territories, with policies shaped by a refusal to acknowledge and respect the basic human rights of the citizens. Even the more optimistic believed that militants would inevitably become more active on both sides, as settlements expanded and Jews and Arabs struggled for the same hilltops, pastures, fields, and water.