So far, ex-Carter Center critic fails to impress
Kenneth Stein, who has noisily criticized Jimmy Carter's new book, is not impressing me with his critique. He uses hyperbolic terms ("gross inventions, intentional falsehoods and irresponsible remarks") to describe errors that are simply not that significant.
Example: Stein says Carter adds the word "the" in front of the phrase "territories occupied" in UN Resolution 242. That is probably an editing error as the phrasing in Reslution 242 is somewhat awkward (although in Russian, Chinese, French versions of UN Resolution 242, the word "the" is included in that context). Does adding the word "the" significantly change the intent of Resolution 242 according to the US interpretation of that resolution? The answer, from US history, is "no." At the time the Resolution was created, the Israelis specifically requested the word "the" be removed in that context and it was removed. However, US ambassador to the UN Arthur Goldberg, at the time 242 was written, agreed the purpose of the phrase in the resolution was to include Israel withdrawing from most of the Gaza and West Bank--and potentially all of those areas depending upon the nature of the contemplated peace among the warring parties. Goldberg, 20 years later tried to add more ambiguity to the wording to take the Israeli position that 242 did not require a withdrawal of most of the Gaza and West Bank. However, documents produced at the time of the resolution being written, which are summarized here, show fairly conclusively that the semantics of adding the word "the" do not change the fact that the US wanted Israel to withdraw from most of the occupied territories as part of a larger peace among the nations in the area. The State Department's summary states in pertinent part:
"Washington made vigorous efforts to win Arab support for the U.S. draft. When King Hussein came to New York in early November, Goldberg assured him that the United States supported the return of the West Bank to Jordan with minor boundary adjustments. Rusk confirmed Goldberg’s statements and urged Hussein to use his influence with Nasser...When it appeared that the U.S. draft resolution could not win sufficient support for adoption by the Security Council, Lord Caradon put forward a British draft resolution, similar to the U.S. draft, but calling for 'withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.'...The Israelis did not like the British draft but faced with the prospect of one that would be even less palatable, they acquiesced. The Arabs were equally unenthusiastic. Believing that the British draft offered a basis for the successful negotiation of a peace settlement, Washington promised that if the resolution passed, there would be U.S. support for the proposed British peace effort. At the last minute, the Soviet Union tried to substitute a draft with a stronger withdrawal clause, and Kosygin wrote to Johnson urging immediate Israeli withdrawal. Johnson replied that the United States would vote for the British draft resolution and hoped the Soviet Union would do the same. On November 22, the Security Council unanimously adopted the British draft as Resolution 242..."
If Stein is trying to say that Resolution 242 does not require Israel to withdraw from most of "the" occupied territories under Resolution 242, then it is Stein who is being misleading, not Carter. If Stein is admitting Resolution 242 requires Israel to withdraw from most of the territories as part of a comprehensive peace, then he and Carter have a similar outlook on this issue and the hyperbole Stein is using is not justified.
(As an aside, read Chomsky's analysis from the early 1990s that ironically shows Carter taking a very pro-Israeli government position on Resolution 242 during Carter's own presidency).
Stein also claims Carter made an "egregious" error as to discussions Carter had in 1990 with then Syrian president Assad. Per the article where Stein's discussion is reported, it states:
"But it was in his account of a 1990 meeting with Assad that Carter made his most egregious error, Stein said. Carter wrote that Assad had said that he was willing to negotiate with Israel on the status of the Golan Heights, which Israel has occupied since the Six-Day War in 1967.
But Stein said his own notes of the Damascus meeting show that Assad, in response to a question from Carter, replied that Syria could not accept a demilitarized Golan without 'sacrificing our sovereignty.'"
Considering that Assad was fairly consistent from the late 1980s forward in saying, give back the Golan Heights in return for Syria recognizing Israel, I am not sure what Stein's problem is here. I personally have never favored Israel giving back the Golan Heights for a mere statement that Syria recognizes the existence of the State of Israel. Carter may now think it is legitimate, but I don't. Still, is this an "egregious error" as Stein is reported as saying? And if it's the most egregious error in Carter's book, then Carter's book must be pretty good.
Still, when we consider the latest evidence of Syrian-Israeli peace talks that were just leaked, it appears the Israelis are ready to give back the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for diplomatic recognition. This again is consistent with Carter's memory of the 1990 meeting with Assad, the current Syrian leader's father.*
* It is sad, but still amsuing to note both the Israelis and Syrians are denying these talks occurred.
Note: Stein does correctly note that Carter describes the meeting as occuring after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Carter's memory is wrong because the meeting occurred in the spring of 1990, which was before Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. That is a factual error, but doesn't really change what actually occurred during the meeting. That Stein may have a slightly different memory of what was said at the meeting does not make Carter's statement "egregious" or in "error."
Overall, while I have at this point, only skimmed Carter's book, I am not hearing anything that justifies the vitriol emanating from Carter's critics. In fact, Carter's book should be read by those American Jews who have not heard much of the information Carter is providing in his book. As this writer from Ha'aretz says, the book is really written for American audiences, and specifically American Jewish audiences--not Israelis, who already know most of what Carter is talking about. If this is the case, then Carter is merely joining the late Yizhak Rabin in his dislike of the leaders of the American Jewish groups who have a Likudnik orientation.
For an earlier discussion about Carter's book and his critics, see here.