Jimmy Carter’s “Settlement Freeze” Lie

Jimmy Carter has consistently and falsely claimed that during the Camp David negotiations Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin agreed to a settlement freeze to last the duration of subsequent peace talks, and that Begin violated this unwritten agreement. For example, in an op-ed published in the Washington Post in 2000, Carter claimed:

Prime Minister Begin pledged that there would be no establishment of new settlements until after the final peace negotiations were completed. But later, under Likud pressure, he declined to honor this commitment, explaining that his presumption had been that all peace talks would be concluded within three months. (Washington Post, Nov. 26, 2000)

Carter makes a similar charge in his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, though with some subtle differences:

Sadat always insisted that the first priority must be adherence to U.N. Resolution 242 and self-determination for the Palestinians, and everyone (perhaps excepting Begin) was convinced that these rights had been protected in the final document. All of us (including the prime minister) were also confident that the final terms of the treaty would be concluded within the three-month target time. Everyone knew that if Israel began building new settlements, the promise to grant the Palestinians “full autonomy,” with an equal or final voice in determining the ultimate status of the occupied territories, would be violated. Perhaps the most serious omission of the Camp David talks was the failure to clarify in writing Begin’s verbal promise concerning the settlement freeze during subsequent peace talks. (p. 50; emphasis added)

While the first passage implies that it was Begin’s expectation alone that the subsequent peace talks would be concluded within three months, the book passage indicates that all participants had that expectation. This contradiction aside, in both passages Carter clearly charges that Begin broke a promise to impose an open-ended settlement freeze.

Carter’s long standing claims about the settlement freeze have been accepted by other experienced Middle East observers. For example, in an otherwise quite hostile review of the book in the New York Times, Ethan Bronner, a former Middle East correspondent for the Boston Globe, wrote:

To see the narrowness of Carter’s perspective, it is worth returning to 1979, the year of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty that resulted from Carter’s Camp David mediation as president, a hugely significant accomplishment. Carter rightly accuses Menachem Begin, then Israel’s prime minister, of deception regarding the expansion of West Bank settlements. Begin promised to freeze the settlements. Not only did he not do so; he had no intention of doing so. (New York Times, Jan. 7, 2007)

But did Prime Minister Begin make such a promise to freeze the settlements, and then violate it? The answer is no he did not – Begin promised and delivered a three month freeze, and further, Jimmy Carter knows this.

Here’s the proof. To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Camp David Accords, the Carter Center on Sept.17, 2003 held a symposium in Washington, DC. Participants included Mr. Carter, Samuel Lewis, who had been the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, William Quandt, who had been a staffer on the National Security Council, and Aharon Barak, who had been Israel’s Attorney General. Ambassador Lewis brought up the question of the settlement freeze, and Barak stated that he was in the relevant meeting, had been the only one taking notes, and that his notes showed that Begin had agreed only to a three month freeze. Off camera Carter is heard to state, “I don’t dispute that.” William Quandt then added that while he had not been in the meeting, Cyrus Vance, who had been, told him immediately afterwards that Begin had agreed to a three month freeze, but they hoped to get it lengthened the next day. Neither Carter, nor Barak, nor Quandt indicated that Begin had ever agreed to extend the freeze. Here’s the sequence from the symposium:

So, confronted with the evidence in 2003 Jimmy Carter admitted that Begin had agreed to only a three month settlement freeze, but now Carter revives his false charge that Begin violated a promise to impose an open-ended freeze.

In doing so, Jimmy Carter is once again violating his promise never to lie to the American people. 

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