Does History Move Too Fast To Comprehend?

Hayden Hollingsworth
Hayden Hollingsworth

When I first read We Can Have Pease in the Holy Land it was hot off the press.  Jimmy Carter laid out a six-part plan that really made sense.  That was in March 2009 but now a scant four months later things have changed dramatically:  A new government in Israel; tremendous unrest in their arch-enemy, Iran; troops being withdrawn for Iraq and the not surprising resumption of Sunni/Shiite ethnic violence; a change of command and direction in Afghanistan; North Korea behaving with ever-increasing bellicosity. Those are just the tips of foreign policy icebergs.  It’s enough to make one throw up their hands in despair!

That’s the one thing that would be more dangerous than tackling these problems in a less-than-well-thought-out manner.  When I recently picked up Jimmy Carter’s book, the ideas that seemed so plausible at the beginning of the year now appears to be close to unworkable.  That I ever believed things could be solved in six steps speaks as much to my naiveté as to the rapidly flowing maelstrom of recent months.  Carter’s book is still worth the reading but it is certainly no “beach book” so I will give you a brief and balanced (I believe) summary.

Jimmy Carter certainly will be remembered, among other things, as a prolific writer.  His twenty-fourth book is well worth the few hours it will take to read.  When he published Palestine Peace Not Apartheid several years ago he was roundly pilloried as being too partial to the Palestinians.  His current work may evoke similar complaints from the pro-Israeli camp, but his approach is balanced. To dismiss Carter’s views as partisan to either side is to read these books through the lens of one’s own prejudice.

In thirteen chapters he gives a well-documented history of conflict covering the three thousand years between Abraham and the Six Day War (in five pages), then settles down to a thoughtful outlining of the problems and attempted solutions since 1967.

The issues have become increasingly well-defined: Two nations/one nation, borders, Jerusalem, West Bank Israeli settlements, Arabs living in Israel, the return of Arab refugees, and Gaza, to mention the major ones.  All of these are addressed in a six-point plan that Carter proposes.

One of the most informative sections of the book is the five appendices which summarize the major peace initiatives from United Nations Resolution 242 (after the Six Day War in 1967) to the International Quartet Road Map for Peace in 2003.  The reading of these documents will broaden one’s understanding of the monumental complexity that will require many compromises on all sides.

Carter’s judgment is based on decades of study so he harbors no illusion of an easily achievable outcome.  Although published just eight months ago, recent changes in the Middle East bring into serious question the cautious optimism evinced. The newly formed government of Israel with Benjamin Netanyahu is far more hawkish than that of Ariel Sharon and his successor, Ehud Barak.  The appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as Foreign Minister advances the challenge for the United States to broker permanent peace.

Until last month Netanyahu refused to mention a two-state solution and who has heard anything of Lieberman and Tzipi Livni?  She may have been the best hope for a new path, but even that seems a far stretch.  Mahmoud Ahmadenijad and his Iraqi ecclesiastical masters seem deaf to anything but their own rhetoric.   Who knows what is going on in the heads of Hamid Karzai and the Afghani warlords?

Then, of course, there is the matter of the economy, the national debt, and the Senate’s concern as to whether Sonia Sotomayor will destroy our justice system as wise old white men perceive it to be.  Our President has more on his mind than I can imagine while the pundits swarm like moths around a candle looking for illumination of their own persona.

Regardless of one’s personal views or political persuasion, Carter’s book should be required reading for a better understanding of how a reasoned approach is mandatory to maneuver through the morass in which we are currently wandering.

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