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Commentary: Why listen to Jimmy Carter?

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 13, 2009 - On a springlike evening in February, several hundred fans of former President Jimmy Carter lined up outside Left Bank Books to purchase his new book: We Can Have Peace in the Middle East: A Plan that Will Work (Simon & Schuster, 2009). Echoing his last book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Carter's new book lays the blame for strife in the Middle East on the Israelis and omits inconvenient history of the conflict.

On the KMOX morning show, Carter was given time to say whatever he wanted, encouraged by host Charlie Brennan. During the hour after the former president spoke, Brennan defended Carter's positions for him, as several callers cited crimes of the terrorist state that Hamas created by force in Gaza.

It seems odd that Carter would write another book on the Middle East, and that so many would look to the former president for guidance on the matter. It's been 30 years since Carter brought Egypt's Anwar Sadat and Israel's Menachem Begin to the Camp David Accords. Since then, the former president has not been a substantial interlocutor in the Middle East, occasionally reiterating positions and demands of Palestinian leaders.

Carter certainly understands the hot button Middle East conflict keeps him relevant on the talk shows and book signings. And, of course he is entitled to his opinion criticizing Israel, but he is not entitled to his own set of facts and omissions.

Carter claims the Hamas leadership desires only food, water, and other necessities. There are three major points of entry into the Gaza strip from Israel, plus the entry from Egypt and a seaport. There is no Israeli blockade of Gaza absent hostilities; the U.N. and other public and private entities are able to deliver supplies at the rate of 80-90 trucks a day. And if getting basic supplies is the most important factor for the Hamas government, why does the Hamas Charter read like a macabre movie script?

From Article 13 - Hamas Charter

There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are a waste of time and a farce. ... As stated in the Hadith: "The people of Al-Sha'm are [Allah's] rod in His land. Through them, He wreaks vengeance on whomever He wishes among His servants. The hypocrites among them are not allowed to be superior to the believers among them, and they shall die in grief and distress."

Given that statement of principle, how could President Carter contend that Hamas can be trusted, as he did recently on NBC?

In an offhand comment on KMOX Carter opened a small window into his thought process. When Brennan mentioned that Arab patients are treated equally and consistently at Israel's Hadassah Medical Center, Carter stated that the Palestinians pay $7 million a month to Hadassah for their treatment. But the Palestinians recently stopped this remuneration in protest against the recent hostilities.

When Brennan mentioned that Hadassah is a worldwide organization governed and funded mostly by Jewish women, Carter reiterated the Palestinian contribution and acknowledged "those other people that you mentioned." Come again? "Those other people" are the American Jewish women who created and sustained the organization since 1912. Hadassah is an advanced research medical center developing and delivering cutting-edge cures to anyone in need. A Palestinian political decision to dissociate from Hadassah only hurts the patients. It is a morose task to impugn a former president; Carter still exploits the rhetoric and lilt that got him elected. But it must be done.

On "The Charlie Rose Show" Carter stated that in the 12 months before the cease fire that began in June 2008 "only one Israeli had been killed." Not only is that factually incorrect, nine Israelis and one visitor from Ecuador were killed during that time, but it uncovers a callousness and bias that cannot be excused by age or innocent misstep.

The Jews in Israel are under perennial attack - thousands of missiles from the north or south, snipers from unseen redoubts, a dagger drawn under a reopened bus stop - all innocent victims must be mourned; all incitement for Israel's destruction must be stopped. The Israeli people live with the certainty they will experience the most heinous form of violence. Not the criminal violence we decry here in America, but a violence against existence, for simply being a Jew. That is something Carter will never understand.

Donald Meissner heads Donald Meissner Communications, University City.

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