That’s my boy!

jimmy carter

I don’t know if you had caught this developing story today or not, but Jimmy Carter (a man I look up to very very much) is working hard for progress in the Palestinian/Israeli peace process.  Today, he met with senior Hamas officials in Cairo in the hopes that some common bond could be built.  What made me say, “Attaboy Jimmy!” was the first couple lines from the article,

Former President Carter met with senior Hamas officials in the Egyptian capital today, rankling the Israeli and US governments, which say it runs counter to their policies of not negotiating with terrorists.

Later in the article, the same thing stuck out to me.

During his stop in Israel, most officials- including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert- refused to meet with Carter, angry over his insistence that Israel should talk to Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, and the European Union.

I hope you don’t misinterpret my “Attaboy!” for a blank check endorsement of Hamas as a legitimate governing authority, because that’s not my intent at all. In fact, Hamas has done a tremendous amount of violence and evil on its part over the years that have burned bridges with Israeli people and deeply set back the Israel/Palestine peace process.

My attaboy really has two main dimensions;
1) Jimmy Carter’s got some serious stones to do what he’s doing now

Bigger ones than Ehud Olmert, Khalid Meshaal, or George Bush, at least. Either these “leaders” are so completely blinded to the complex issues that surround seeking peace in this area or are continuing to willfully play off others’ fears, because there’s been plenty of black/white simplistic answers coming from these parties.Jimmy’s in pursuit of solutions and healing, and he’s willing to ask hard questions and meet with the unmeetable because he knows peoples’ lives (both Palestinian and Israeli) hang in the balance. And peoples’ lives are always, ALWAYS more important than the wounded pride and ego of choosing to embrace those you have hated so long you almost don’t remember why.

2) Jimmy Carter’s smart enough to know “terrorist” is just a label that all kinds of organizations throw around, usually to demonize the opposing party in the hopes that your folks will come off smelling like roses, all righteous and stuff. Terrorism is in the eyes of the beholder.

I wrote a few posts awhile back highlighting this fact.

1) One post focused on the reports early in March of a Tomahawk cruise missile attack on an al-Qaeda operative in Somalia.

The Pentagon confirmed that the U.S. military struck a target against a known al-Qaeda terrorist, and I’m sure this was the point at which your average story-reader (especially American) stopped reading. But buried at the bottom of the article, we’re told that the strike destroyed two houses, killed three women, three children, and wounded another twenty people. Now in the bigger scheme of things (beyond the Pentagon thinking they rode in on their white horse, accomplished justice, and rode back out again), how much do you think that missile strike affected that town of Dhoobley? The families of the killed? The injured? The memories that will remain for generations in that small town? The (justified) hatred that Tomahawk will inspire in them? Who comes off as a terrorist organization for the people in Dhoobley? I’ll let you handle that one yourself.

2) Another post focused on a story that emerged April 1 also related to the American government. The story, reporting on a Justice Department memo to Bush, stated

The president’s wartime power as commander in chief would not be limited by the U.N. treaties against torture. Legal counsel John Yoo wrote, “Our previous opinions make clear that customary international law is not federal law and that the president is free to override it at his discretion.”

What would be the definition of a terrorist organization? Maybe one that openly flaunts international law and does what it decides is right, with the good of all over-ridden by their own interests? The U.S. fits the description in this case.

3) And the third post had to do with the very Israeli/Palestinian relationship Carter is addressing right now.

It seems Hamas got a sweet whiff of what might bring lasting positive change in the shattered relationship by choosing not to suicide bomb a marketplace, but instead mobilize the people of Palestine in non-violent protest against the unjust security wall Israel has been building. Israel caught a whiff of this plan, and here was their response;

The army intends to prevent the marchers from advancing on the fence when they are still inside the Strip, using various means for crowd dispersal according to a ring system: The closer the marchers get to the fence, the harsher the response.The army plans to fire at open areas near the demonstrators with artillery that the Artillery Corps has been moving to the area over the past couple of days. If the marchers continue and cross into the next ring, they will face tear gas. If they persist, snipers could be ordered to aim for the marchers’ legs as they approach the fence.

It’s not an un-related point that Israel has been building the security walls inside the borders of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while acquiring land for settlements by driving Palestinian farmers off the land, refusing to let them back on, and squatting on the land until they declare it “unoccupied” and thus free for illegal settlers to move on.

It is Israel’s handling of this situation that led to Desmond Tutu calling the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians “apartheid.” I think Desmond Tutu would know. It also led to Jimmy Carter writing a book entitled “Peace not Apartheid.” Both men have been charged with anti-Semitism, a challenge that carries baggage since the Holocaust happened only 70 years ago. In this situation though (with both men being followers of Jesus) Jimmy and Desmond weren’t spitting hatred but speaking truth to power, and thinking of the long-term good of both Israelis and Palestinians.

A good example of what not to do, of simplistic and close-minded thinking came from Condolezza Rice (who could’ve been working on this relationship for three and a half years already), who said she found it “hard to understand what is going to be gained by having discussions with Hamas about peace when Hamas is in fact the impediment to peace.” Well, Condi, Hamas plays a role in the problem, yes. But so does Israel in their state terror on the Palestinian people. And so does the United States in giving a blank check to Israel of support. You’re the Secretary of State of the United States of America, and that’s all you can come up with?

*UPDATE TO ADD* Carter made a speech today (4/21/08 ) as a result of his talks in the region that (surprise surprise) includes concessions Hamas would be willing to make as a result of direct talks. Here’s a quote

Carter urged Israel to engage in direct negotiations with Hamas, saying failure to do so was hampering peace efforts.

“We do not believe that peace is likely and certainly that peace is not sustainable unless a way is found to bring Hamas into the discussions in some way,” he said. “The present strategy of excluding Hamas and excluding Syria is just not working.”

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4 thoughts on “That’s my boy!

  1. Look, Jimmy Carter has been at this for over 30 years and he has NOTHING to show for it. Seriously. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be talking to violent governments and trying to get them to act in a more humanitarian way. And perhaps Carter does that. And he’s a nice guy. But he’s never produced anything worthwhile in terms of foreign relations.

  2. Derek,

    That’s simply not true.

    When he was president, his influence and message was somehow powerful enough for Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to take tremendous risk and unpopularity in his country to commit to the peace process. And Sadat paid for that with his life. What could lead a man to make that kind of sacrifice, even if he hadn’t died? The repercussions of that decision led to Egypt being expelled from the Arab League. In addition, it wasn’t a unilateral US move, but deeply involved surrounding countries as well.

    If Carter hadn’t convened that conference and they hadn’t made the progress they did, the table wouldn’t have been set for the influence the Carter Center has had in varied ways in hot spots across the globes, not only military hot spots, but disease and human rights violations.

    In spite of neo-cons writing these important conversations off that Carter has convened, I’m convinced the results of his initiative will bear much fruit over the long-term. Right now, though, he’s swimming against the violent riptide of American neo-con foreign policy (that resulted in this disastrous war), Israeli state terrorism, and the Islamic extremism that the prior two influences have contributed greatly to.

    I’m sorry you have this opinion of Carter, Derek, but the facts are there. I’d encourage you to look deeply into the actions of the Carter Center, and I’d encourage you to value the high respect for speaking truth to countries, especially when it is unpopular, as this most recent visit most certainly is.

  3. Maybe my perspective is tainted with how much he praised Arafat for pursuing peace, when all the while Arafat was still giving speeches about destroying Israel and didn’t really change.

    I’m not a Carter expert. But it’s funny that you had to go back to the late 70’s to find something that he did that was productive. My problem with Carter is that, at least in terms of appearances, you have an former American president going around meeting with some of the most brutal dictators in the world and undermining the current administration’s foreign policy efforts. It used to be that former presidents left that kind of stuff alone, and for good reason. Carter is quite unique in that respect.

  4. Derek,

    I didn’t have to go back to the late 70’s to find a productive action. I just chose that as a watershed conversation that set the table for future peace talks in the region.

    There are plenty more of Carter’s actions I could highlight after that. If you’d like to know more about the guy who lives near you, please read up on the Carter Center (or visit it, it’s very close to you).

    I don’t have a problem at all with Carter meeting with these people. Many of them have significant things to say, and are fighting for the rights of their people as equals (the Palestinians in particular right now). They’ve just chosen unjust means to work toward the goal of respect. But like I highlighted in the post, it’s not like the US hasn’t done this same thing. “Terrorism” is in the eyes of the beholder. While Arafat continued his brand of terror during the peace talks, Israel continued their brand of terror with helicopter gunships firing Hellfire missiles indiscriminately into Palestinian refugee camps.

    Progress is only made when leaders can lift their eyes off themselves and those most like them to realize we live in a world of over 6 billion other people, so we’re all ultimately in this together. Jimmy Carter is one of those leaders. Unfortunately, George Bush and Condolezza Rice and, to some degree, Bill Clinton, are not.

    Leaders like Jimmy Carter have a trickle-down effect on leadership around the world when they consistently make ballsy moves like this.

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