Sunday, 17 August 2008

Palestine In A Nutshell

The structure. The added content. And the ending, too. More than half of this was changed. This was one of my worst fears come true. Has writing full-time blunted my ...edge?

Primer on a political mess

first published in The Star, 17 August 2008

The history of the modern Middle-Eastern conflict is a babble of dissenting voices, each claiming veracity over the other. Many have tried in vain to seek the heart of the problem, and come up with its solution.

Among those seeking this Holy Grail is former US President Jimmy Carter, author of Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, a memoir-slash-analysis of the Middle East conflict and his involvement in it throughout his political career. First published in 2006, another edition was released recently with a new afterword from the author.

Carter might have been an unglamorous peanut farmer before being elected president in 1977 but he was among the more intellectual of American presidents, many – including critics – agree. However, a host of hot button issues that cropped up in untimely fashion, especially the Iranian hostage crisis, cost him a second term.

(Almost 70 people were kidnapped from the US embassy in Teheran in 1979; the last 53 remained captive for 444 days – and, in fact, were released just after Carter had lost the re-election to Ronald Reagan.)

Carter is now the head of the Carter Center, a think-tank dedicated to peace, freedom, and human rights, and he's apparently giving the Middle East another go.

Before I get into the book, here's a quick (very quick, not to mention necessarily simplified) brief on the area's recent history culled from various widely available sources.

Modern Israel's story began with the British-engineered Balfour Declaration that promised Jews they could carve up a chunk of Arab land for their own state, which was born after World War II.

Hostilities between Jews and Arabs soon followed, of course; it got too hot for the British troops overseeing the new nation so they packed up and left.

Over the years, mediation (or should that be “meddling”?) by external political factions only complicated matters, resulting in the roiling cauldron of Tom Yam Goong that is today's Chez Middle East, a kitchen with two executive chefs – two colossal egos, each unwilling to yield to the other.

Today, the region is the fulcrum for a restless ideological see-saw that has the world on tenterhooks.

Throughout this book, Carter tries his best not to lean towards either side, stressing that ending the conflict requires both sides to pull together. He notes two major obstacles to peace: the extremist factions within both countries.

Palestine supplies a lot of information to help the reader understand the complex issues. Maps of the region showing shifts in territorial control over the years are scattered liberally throughout the book, along with key extracts of diplomatic agreements. The text of United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338, and details of the Camp David Accords have been included in the appendices.

Okay, so Palestine is not light reading, obviously. The language is serious – dead serious at times – because the issues are serious. Carter may not be an official diplomat, but he still writes like one.

If all UN speeches sound this serious and dry, small wonder many delegates look like they'd rather be somewhere else every time sessions are televised.

It is kind of him, however, to provide so much information (all seemingly meticulously researched) and so objectively, too. By not taking sides, he demonstrates Palestine's integrity, which makes it a good primer on the Great Middle East Mess.

This has earned Carter the ire of some Americans, while earning the respect of many people around the world.

And it should earn the general reader's gratitude, because we – yes, you too – need to keep an eye on this Mess. It's bound to boil over and involve the whole world one day if it hasn't already done so indirectly....

Peace Not Apartheid

Jimmy Carter
Simon & Schuster Paperbacks
270 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7432-8503-2


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