Middle East Quarterly, published by Daniel Pipes’ organization Middle East Forum, contains an article titled “My Problem with Jimmy Carter’s Book”, by Kenneth Stein, the first executive director of the Carter Center in Atlanta from 1983 to 1986, and currently a professor of Contemporary Middle Eastern History at Emory University. Stein, it will be remembered, resigned from his affiliation with the Carter Center, where he was a Middle East Fellow for over two decades, in protest over former President Jimmy Carter’s book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Touring the country explaining his objections to his former boss’s perspective on the Israeli Palestinian conflict, Stein has refrained from tarring Carter with the label “Jew-hater” (this from the ever-subtle David Horowitz), or claiming that Carter’s criticisms of Israeli policy stem from Carter having “enriched[ed] himself with dirty money”–dirty Arab oil money, specifically–from Shaykh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, “an unredeemable anti-Semite and all-around bigot” (this from the extraordinary Alan Dershowitz in an article) It should be noted, since Dershowitz does not, that much of the alleged dirty money that flowed through the Carter Center would have supported—and in the early years, been managed and disbursed by–Professor Stein.

But Stein has roundly criticized Carter’s book for containing “egregious errors of both commission and omission. To suit his desired ends, he manipulates information, redefines facts, and exaggerates conclusions” (p. 1). Stein writes that “I resigned [my post with the Carter Center] over both the inaccuracies in Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid and its message” (p. 1). Before we examine Stein’s criticisms, what is the controversial message Carter advances in Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid? In Carter’s own words, it is this:

“In times of greatest discouragement, ultimate hope has rested on the fact that, overwhelmingly, the people in the region–even those Syrians, Israelis, Lebanese, and Palestinians who are most distrusted by their adversaries–want. . .peace efforts to succeed. The rhetoric and demands from all sides may be harsh, but there are obvious areas of agreement that can provide a basis for progress. . . .Continuing impediments have been the desire of some Israelis for Palestinian land, the refusal of some Arabs to accept Israel as a neighbor, the absence of a clear and authoritative Palestinian voice acceptable to Israel, the refusal of both sides to join peace talks without onerous preconditions, the rise in Islamic fundamentalism, and the recent lack of any protracted effort by the United States to pursue peace based on international law and previous agreements ratified by Israel” (p. 13).

“Accommodation must be sought through negotiation with all parties to the dispute, with each having fair representation and the right to participate in free discussions. Compromise is necessary from both sides, with clear distinctions made between what their dreams and ideology dictate and what is pragmatically possible” (p. 15).

“The three most basic premises [of a negotiated peace] are quite clear:
1. Israel’s right to exist within recognized borders–and to live in peace–must be accepted by Palestinians and all other neighbors; 2. The killing of noncombatants in Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon by bombs, missile attacks, assassinations, or other acts of violence cannot be condoned; and 3. Palestinians must live in peace and dignity in their own land as specified by international law unless modified by good-faith negotiations with Israel. . . .In the final analysis, the different peoples of the Middle East have their own viewpoints, their own grievances, their own goals and aspirations. But it is Israel that remains the key, the tiny vortex around which swirl the winds of hatred, intolerance, and bloodshed. The indomitable people of Israel are still attempting to define their future, the basic character of their nation, its geographical boundaries, and the conditions under which the legitimate rights of the Palestinians can be honored and an accommodation forged with its neighbors. These internal decisions will have to be made in consultation with Arabs who are basically antagonistic–perhaps as difficult a political prospect as history has ever seen. Many Israelis, like their neighbors, are eagerly seeking a measure of normalized existence, but the verbal threats from Iran and some radical Arabs and the terrorist attacks in the occupied territories and even within Israel have kept alive the feelings of distrust and alienation among Israelis toward their neighbors. The most extreme and obnoxious statements have come from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has described the Holocaust as “a myth” and urged that Israel be annihilated or moved from the Middle East to Europe.

The Arabs must recognize the reality that is Israel, just as the Israelis must accept a Palestinian state in the small remaining portion of territorial homeland allotted to the Palestinians by the United Nations and previous peace agreements. Palestinian human rights must be protected as generally recognized under international law, including self-determination, free speech, equal treatment of all persons, freedom from prolonged military domination and imprisonment without trial, the rights of families to be reunited, the sanctity of ownership of property, and the right of non-belligerent people to live in peace” (pp. 16-18).

Given this measured stance, what are Stein’s problems with Carter’s book? What are the redefined facts, manipulated information, and exaggerated conclusions that caused Carter’s long-time colleague to turn on him so publicly? I will discuss five of them: Stein’s characterization of Carter’s “animosity” toward late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin; Carter’s “imperial rationality;” Carter’s overlooking of the counterproductive actions of Palestinians and his purported support of suicide bombing as a tactic; Carter’s manufacture of facts and quotations; and Carter’s “revision” and “reinterpretation” of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967.

1) Stein claims that Carter’s “animus toward [Menachem Begin] is limitless,” and that Carter blamed him for the failure of the peace process, since the Camp David Accords Begin signed with Egypt in 1978 specified the development of a resolution process for the West Bank and Gaza as well. In his book, Carter does express considerable disappointment with Begin for violating those understandings by continuing to settle Israelis in the Occupied Territories in violation of the Geneva Conventions and UN Resolutions. Carter expresses disappointment with Begin for not having followed through on his commitments. But surprisingly, Stein appears far harder on the late Prime Minister. According to Stein, “during his tenure as prime minister, Begin forbade the negotiation agenda to include the West Bank and those portions of Jerusalem that the Israeli government annexed after the 1967 Six Day War” (p. 4), and he quotes Samuel Lewis, the U.S. ambassador to Israel at the time, that “Begin would never consider admitting that the Israeli right to settle wasn’t a right” (p. 4), implying that, in fact, Carter should not have been at all surprised by or unprepared for this failure. If this was Begin’s unalterable position from the beginning, why did he sign the Camp David Accords, which call for “negotiations on the resolution of the Palestinian problem in all its aspects” by representatives of Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians? In Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Carter portrays Begin’s problem as a lack of political will. Kenneth Stein, on the other hand, implies that it was a moral flaw, essentially portraying Begin as a liar and a hypocrite. Which portrayal displays more animus?

2) Stein claims that “Carter believes that if the U.S. government reduces or stops its support for Israel, then the Jewish state will be weakened and become more malleable in negotiations. His underlying logic is based upon an imperial rationality that assumes Washington to have the answer to myriad issues besetting Middle Eastern societies. This plays into the notion in Arab societies that the cause of their problems lies with Western powers and other outsiders” (p. 3). In fact, nowhere in Carter’s book is this claim made. In fact, Carter criticizes Arab leaders for believing that Israel is America’s lapdog, and that we can force it to make political concessions it does not want to make. “[T]he Saudis and many others greatly overestimate the influence of the United States,” Carter writes on p. 102, “and they never understand why we cannot ‘deliver’ our own friends in the Middle East when it suits our purposes.”

3) Likewise, Stein claims that “In the book Carter does not mention the counterproductive judgments made by Palestinian leaders or their embrace of terrorism over the last many years” (p. 3). If this were true, it would indeed be troubling. How surprising, then, to read Carter’s assertion that one of the two main obstacles to a peace settlement is the fact that “Some Palestinians react [to Israeli actions] by honoring suicide bombers as martyrs to be rewarded in heaven and consider the killing of Israelis as victories” (p. 206), or that “Palestinians have responded to political and military occupation by launching terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, a course of action that is both morally reprehensible and politically counterproductive. These dastardly acts have brought widespread condemnation and discredit on the entire Palestinian community–and are almost suicidal for the Palestinian cause” (p. 15). Calling Palestinian actions “dastardly”, “morally reprehensible,” “politically counterproductive,” and pointing out how they discredit the Palestinian cause may not be sufficiently negative for Stein. But it is hardly the same thing as not mentioning them at all.

The most troublesome passage in Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid –one pointed out by many commentators as clear evidence of Carter’s unbalance (either diplomatic or mental)–is on page 213, where Carter writes that “It is imperative that the general Arab community and all significant Palestininan groups make it clear that they will end the suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism when international laws and the ultimate goals of the Roadmap for Peace are accepted by Israel.” In other words, Palestinians are justified in deploying suicide bombers until Israel submits to good-faith negotiation. This is, of course, one of many existing Palestinian and Arab positions. But given Carter’s numerous statements condemning terrorism both morally and politically in the rest of the book, and his long record as a crusader for human rights everywhere in the world, it cannot realistically be taken to represent his own position. He has apologized repeatedly for the phrasing of that passage since the book’s publication.

4) Stein accuses Carter of making up data and quotes. For example, Carter writes that in 1990 Syrian president Hafez al-Asad was newly flexible on the idea of the negotiating with Israel over a demilitarized Golan Heights. Stein contests this recollection, writing that the notes he himself took during the meeting with Asad do not support Carter’s interpretation. But the notes Stein uses as proof of Carter’s misrepresentation are not necessarily incompatible with Carter’s statement in the book. Besides, Carter often had more than one notetaker accompanying him–often his wife Roslyn–and as Stein admits, the former president may also have had conversations with Asad of which Stein was not a part. In addition, Stein writes that Carter held a press conference immediately after his conversation with Asad in which he outlined what he thought was a feasible compromise based on his discussion with the Syrian leader. If Carter’s description of his understanding of Asad’s position had been wildly inaccurate, one would expect the Syrians to have said so quite forcefully and publicly. Stein presents no evidence that the Syrians challenged Carter’s representation of his conversations with Asad.

Unfortunately, Stein is not above problems of fact. He writes, for example, “Carter states that Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader. . .’supports peace talks between Israel and [Palestinian Authority leader] Abbas. . .[and] accepts the Road Map in its entirety.’ [But Haniya] does not.” In an article otherwise rich with citations, Stein provides no citation or evidence for this quote. The first part of the claim is to be found on p. 213 of Carter’s book, but the second part, claiming that Hamas accepts the Road Map in its entirety, is not to be found anywhere in Carter’s book. If one were uncharitable, one would accuse him of making up quotes. But it’s also possible that Stein takes this quote from some other work by Carter or someone else, and fails to cite it properly. So perhaps it’s not fabrication, just poor scholarship.

Doing nothing to clarify this problem is the fact that Stein repeatedly attributes to Carter statements that were actually made by others. He says Carter claims Hamas committed no terrorist acts since August 2004. But this was not Carter speaking, it was Carter’s description of a statement made to him in January 2006 by Mahmoud Ramahi, a Hamas spokesman (184). (Whether Carter should have been more critical of some of his sources is an important issue, but one separate from the issue of misquotation.) Stein criticizes Carter for failing to mention the Hamas kidnapping of Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit in June 2006. But in fact, Carter discusses this event on p. 197 of his book. Stein claims that Carter is “inconsistent” about his own position regarding the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland, and cites two places where Carter discusses the issue. But neither passage in the book expresses Carter’s current understanding of the refugee issue. The first instance, on p. 28, discusses Carter’s recollection of his own understanding in 1973 of what the United Nations resolutions allowed. The second instance, on p. 167, describes the position of those Carter calls “the more militant Palestinian factions,” who insist on the right of refugees to return to Israel proper. Is Professor Stein deliberately and repeatedly putting into Carter’s mouth the words of militants and Islamists of one sort or another, with whom Carter himself disagrees, or is he simply not a very careful reader?

5) Finally, Stein accuses Carter of “revising” or “reinterpreting” the text of UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967. Passed in the aftermath of the Six Day War between Israel and Jordan, Syria, and Egypt, Resolution 242 emphasizes “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security,” and “Affirms that the fulfilment of [UN] Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace. . .which should include. . .withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.”

Stein points out that this phrasing took over five months to craft, and that it was left deliberately ambiguous. Repeated attempts by UN member states to include the definite article “the” before “territories occupied in the recent conflict” were refused so that the ambiguity would allow both Israel and other nations to approve the resolution. The issue, of course, is–withdrawal from which territories? All of them? Some of them? Partial withdrawal from all? Total withdrawal from some? The position of the US and Israel has traditionally been that any Israeli withdrawal from any of the territories satisfies the principle. It can be argued that the Israelis accomplished this first by withdrawing from the Sinai in the 1980s and then from Gaza in 2005. But the rest of the world–including Carter–read the passage to imply, particularly when coupled with the preamble that calls territory acquired by war “inadmissable”–that Israeli armed forces should withdraw from all territories it occupied. Stein criticizes Carter for this interpretation, implying that Carter is purposely and dishonestly misconstruing the text. But Stein has pointed out that the text was drafted to be deliberately ambiguous. How can we fault someone for constructing a reading of a deliberately ambiguous text? How can we fault someone for insisting on the more plausible reading of the text rather than the less plausible one? And how can we assume that the minority reading of the text–that of Israel and the United States–is automatically the correct one, particularly since other versions of the text, including the official UN French version, include the definite article?

The predictable result of all this fuss is that some of the most distressing elements of Carter’s book–his description of the systematic dispossession and immiseration of Palestinian populations under military occupation–get lost in the quibbling over textual details. It is significant that nowhere in his article does Stein challenge or call inaccurate Carter’s characterization of the toll that the military occupation takes on Palestinians. Nor does Stein mention the mental, physical, emotional, and cultural toll the occupation has taken on Israeli settlers and their families, Israeli soldiers, or Israelis living within Israel itself. He confines himself to the fineries of diplomatic negotiation and the self-interested scribblings of politicians and memoir writers–Carter himself not excepted– instead of confronting realities on the ground. Moreover, his inaccurate list of inaccuracies has been used to label Carter as an anti-Semite and has kept many good people from even considering reading the book, whatever its flaws. That is a problem.