Jimmy Carter’s Syndicated Errors

In the last several days, an Op-Ed by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter appeared in newspapers around the world, including the Guardian (March 20) and Ha’aretz (March 17,”Colonization of Palestine precludes peace”). The gist of his column is contained in his statement that “The preeminent obstacle to peace is Israel’s colonization of Palestine.” While President Carter is entitled to whatever opinion he would like–no matter how outlandish–this does not give him a license to invent the facts. The column contains at least two serious factual problems. First, he writes:

Especially troublesome is Israel’s construction of huge concrete dividing walls in populated areas and high fences in rural areas – located entirely on Palestinian territory and often with deep intrusions to encompass more land and settlements.

It is false to state that the West Bank barrier is “located entirely on Palestinian territory.” At least a fifth of the barrier runs along the Green Line itself—certainly not “Palestinian territory.” Even harsh critics of Israel’s security barrier acknowledge that a portion of the route coincides with the Green Line. For example, a December 2005 report by B’tselem and Bimkom, notes: “only some twenty percent of the barrier’s route will run along the border between them [the West Bank and Israel], the Green Line” (“Under the Guise of Security”). Likewise, a March 2005 report compiled by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and UNRWA, contains a section entitled “Departure from the Green Line,” which states:

20% of the Barrier’s length runs along the Green Line. More of the Barrier is now planned to be on the Green Line primarily as a result of the shift of the southern route in Hebron towards the Green Line. (“The Humanitarian Impact of the West Bank Barrier on the Palestinian Communities”)

Under the heading “Other Changes to the New Route,” the OCHA-UNRWA report adds: “The new route adds 20 km along the Green Line in South Hebron and is marked on the map as ‘subject to completion of further inter-ministerial examination.'” The new route is the result of a Feb. 20, 2005 Cabinet decision. From the color-coded map on page 4 of the report, you can plainly see that the barrier lies on top of the Green Line in certain places, most significantly in the southern West Bank. Also, in places the fence dips slightly into Israel itself. On the Defense Ministry’s detailed map, it looks as if the new route slightly crosses the Green Line into Israel just north of Modi’in and north-west of Bethlehem. According to Defense Ministry officials, this was done for topographical reasons, because Israel wanted the high ground.

Second, President Carter errs on several points when he writes:

The unwavering U.S. position since Dwight Eisenhower’s administration has been that Israel’s borders coincide with those established in 1949, and since 1967, the universally adopted UN Resolution 242 has mandated Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied territories. This policy was reconfirmed even by Israel in 1978 and 1993, and emphasized by all American presidents, including George W. Bush.

It is incorrect to state that the U.S. position is that “Israel’s borders coincide with those established in 1949” for multiple reasons. The lines, established April 3, 1949 by Article III of the Israel-Jordan Armistice Agreement, are not borders but armistice lines, temporary boundaries to be replaced in the future by a negotiated, internationally recognized border. In fact, U.N. Resolution 242, which Carter incorrectly casts as mandating Israel’s “withdrawal from the occupied territories,” underscores the fact that Americans, as backers of the resolution, did not expect Israel to withdraw to pre-1967 boundaries. Thus, contrary to Carter’s assertion, the resolution does not call on Israel to withdraw from “the occupied territories,” which suggests all of the territories. Rather, the resolution was carefully worded to call for the withdrawal “from territories,” not “the territories.” This language, leaving out “the,” was intentional, because it was not envisioned that Israel would withdraw from all the territories, thereby returning to the vulnerable pre-war boundaries. And any withdrawal would be such as to create “secure and recognized boundaries.” The resolution’s actual wording calls for “Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.”

As the then American Ambassador to the U.N., former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, stated, “The notable omissions–which were not accidental–in regard to withdrawal are the words ‘the’ or ‘all’ and the ‘June 5, 1967 lines’ … the resolution speaks of withdrawal from occupied territories without defining the extent of withdrawal.” This would encompass “less than a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territory, inasmuch as Israel’s prior frontiers had proved to be notably insecure.”

In short, support for U.N. Resolution 242, which has been a pillar of American Mideast policy, is not tantamount to a withdrawal to Israel’s 1949 boundaries. Rather, in the words of George W. Bush: “the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 will be ended through a settlement negotiated between the parties, based on U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338, with Israeli withdrawal to secure and recognized borders” (June 24, 2002).
The column is copyrighted by Project Syndicate and the Council on Foreign Relations.

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