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Elliot Leven

 
Elliot Leven: Carter misses the point in new attack on Bibi

By Elliot Leven, November 14, 2012

Former American president Jimmy Carter recently accused Israeli prime minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu of making a one-state solution increasingly inevitable. Carter also endorsed the concept of having Palestine accepted as a non-member state by the United Nations General Assembly.
Carter is best known as the man who persuaded Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin to sign the Camp David Accords – the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.
More recently, Carter is known as the author of the 2006 book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Despite the sensationalist title, the book is not an attack on Israel for being an apartheid state. Rather, it is a warning to Israel to avoid becoming an apartheid state in the future. The book endorses the Geneva Initiative for peace – a private “peace treaty” between prominent Israelis and Palestinians. The Geneva Initiative calls for Israel to withdraw from most, but not all, of its West Bank settlements. It is a moderate document, which would require compromise from both parties.
Carter has taken an active interest in Middle Eastern affairs and has criticized Israel for its West Bank settlement policies. He has also praised Israel on many occasions, and is hardly the “enemy of Israel” that his critics would make him out to be.
The terms “two-state solution” and “one-state solution” are usually used to describe two different concepts for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A two-state solution involves a state of Israel in approximately the area that constituted Israel from 1948-1967, and an independent Palestine in approximately the West Bank and Gaza. Supporters of a two-state solution generally say that precise borders would be determined by negotiation.   The Geneva Initiative would be one example of s two-state solution.
A one-state solution would mean no Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and no independent state in the West Bank and Gaza. Some enemies of Israel endorse a democratic, single state which, combined with a Palestinian “right of return”, would mean one state with a Palestinian voting majority. There would no longer be a state with a Jewish majority.
Some right-wing Israelis support a one-state solution, with some mechanism for preventing Palestinians from voting. That might mean physically expelling them from the West Bank, or perhaps allowing them to remain as non-voting non-citizens. That would result in a single state encompassing Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, with a Jewish voting majority.
During a recent visit to Israel, Carter noted that all past Israeli prime ministers have supported a two-state solution. He then attacked Bibi for moving Israel towards a one-state solution: “The two-state solution has basically been abandoned and we’re now moving towards a Greater Israel, or Eretz Israel, taking over all of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.”
Carter also endorsed the current plans of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to ask the United Nations General Assembly to make Palestine a non-member state. This would be a symbolic victory for the PA. Bibi has always opposed this concept. Until now, so has the U.S. government.
Carter is right to attack Bibi for allowing West Bank settlements to grow in size and population. He has made only tepid efforts to remove illegal West Bank settlements (those built by small bands of Jewish fanatics without Israeli government approval). There is no doubt that many West Bank settlers voted for Bibi in the past, and he certainly wants their votes in the future.
A more far-sighted Israeli leader would begin to set the stage for a West Bank compromise. That might mean allowing a few large settlements (like Maaleh Adumim) to grow, while providing financial incentives for Jewish settlers to voluntarily leave smaller settlements. If and when Israel wants to enter into some form of West Bank compromise, it would be less expensive and less painful, if some of the smaller settlements were already gone.
Unfortunately, Bibi is more focused on being re-elected than on making long-term peace plans. That does not necessarily mean that Bibi really wants a one-state solution, but he is doing nothing to smooth the path for any eventual two-state solution. Carter is right to criticize him.
At the same time, Carter should be even-handed. He should criticize Hamas along with Bibi. Hamas is doing more than Bibi to impede long-term peace prospects.
As for the United Nations and non-member status, Carter is missing the point. The U.N. General Assembly is more or less irrelevant. The General Assembly has absolutely no credibility whatsoever on anything related to Israel. It was the General Assembly that once branded Zionism as racism. 
Even worse, Carter should be shrewd enough to realize that whenever the U.N. or any of its committees takes any action perceived by centrist Israelis as anti-Israel, that strengthens the hand of the Israeli right-wing. The right-wing narrative is essentially that the world will always hate Israel no matter what Israel does, so there is no reason for Israel to make any compromises on the West Bank or on anything else.
Ironically, if the General Assembly does give the PA a symbolic victory at the expense of Bibi, that will actually strengthen Bibi’s position with Israeli swing voters. Carter is foolish for not realizing this.
It is also ironic that the peace between Israel and Egypt came about not because of anything the General Assembly did, but despite the General Assembly’s crude and offensive anti-Israel bias. If anyone should remember that, it should be Jimmy Carter.
In short, Jimmy Carter is right that Israel should continue its past practice of working towards a two-state solution, unilaterally if necessary. He should feel free to level even-handed criticisms at Bibi, at Hamas, and at any other party that fails to move the region closer towards peace. He should forget about the U.N. At best, the General Assembly will be irrelevant. At worst, it will give Bibi a few extra seats in the next Knesset.
 
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