Jimmy Carter Made My Mother Rich!
The Forward this week ran a pretty nasty editorial condemning Jimmy Carter for meeting with Hamas and citing his presidency as “slightly ahead of Millard Fillmore but trailing Herbert Hoover."
The inflated interest rates during the Carter years that the Forward editorial whines about, rates that reached 20 percent at one point, actually turned the savings account and money-market funds of teachers, civil servants, cops, firefighters, social workers and other middle-class people into substantial nest-eggs and small estates for their children and grandchildren to inherit. Jimmy Carter, in short, actually made my mother rich for a few years! Wall Street hated those high interest rates, which drove the little people away from riskier stock investments, but for a lot of working people, especially retirees, Carter's term was a time of wealth redistribution that didn't hurt one bit.
Carter also introduced human rights concerns to American foreign policy after decades of realpolitik brutality on the part of the State Department, Pentagon, CIA, and other centers of U.S. power. He established diplomatic relations with China, negotiated the Salt II nuclear arms treaty with the USSR, overcame rightwing fury to achieve the Panama Canal Treaty — and, of course, brokered the only modern peace deal between Israel and an Arab power, the Camp David Accords. To boot, he was the only presidential candidate in history to quote a Yiddish proverb (in his 1980 concession speech)! I'm not saying he was a great friend of the people, but the Forward's description — “he left Americans so soured on their government that the door was opened to a generation of rule by the far right” — is really misplaced.
Carter’s life-after-the-White House has included turning Habitat for Humanity into a household word and serving as an impartial international elections monitor. He is also a cofounder of The Elders, an impressive group of elderly international citizens dedicated to bringing moral suasion to bear on our planet’s most stubborn problems. (Jewish Currents was the first Jewish publication to editorialize about the Elders, in our September-October, 2007 issue.) Carter won the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize as a honest broker of peace who acts consistently with his belief that dialogue is a cornerstone of peace-making. He is not alone in calculating that there can be no meaningful Israeli-Palestinian peace established if Hamas is not party to it.
Henry Siegman, the former head of the American Jewish Congress, has reported on his conversations with Hamas leaders (in the New York Review of Books), who state that Hamas "is prepared to abide by a long-term hudna, or cease-fire, which would end all violence. . . . [C]omplete reciprocity must prevail, and Israel must end all attacks on Palestinians. If Israel agrees to the cease-fire, Hamas will take responsibility for preventing and punishing Palestinian violations, whether committed by Islamic Jihad, the al-Aqsa Intifada, or its own people. Hamas understands that it cannot demand recognition as the legitimate government of Palestine if it is not prepared to enforce such a cease-fire, in the context of its responsibility for law and order."
Efraim Halevy, former head of the Mossad, Israel's CIA, wrote the following (quoted by Siegman):
"Hamas constitutes about a fifth of Palestinian society. Because they are an active, engaged and aware group, they have more political weight. So anyone who thinks it's possible to ignore such a central element of Palestinian society is simply mistaken. . . . I think that in the end there will be no way around Hamas being a partner in the Palestinian government. I believe that if that happens there is a chance that it will be domesticated. Its destructive force will be reduced."
And Robert Malley and Hussein Agha wrote in the very latest NYRB: "Israel and the Palestinian Authority cannot make real progress on a peace agreement if they are determined to keep Hamas out. The Islamists can turn to violence, mount a campaign to deny backing to Abbas and any accord he favors, or prevent a credible referendum from being held in Gaza, which they control, and in the West Bank, where they retain considerable influence. As long as Hamas is shunned, as long as peace talks are intended to further marginalize it, Hamas will perceive an alliance between Abbas and Israel as a mortal threat and react accordingly."
There is nothing more idiotic, in my opinion, than the Bush administration's policy of refusing to talk with governments to which it is opposed. Carter is striving to help move the U.S. — and the Israeli government — beyond the politics of the playground, where Nah nah nah nah nah passes for diplomacy.
Yes, I read Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid when it was published, and I found it one-sided. Carter failed, in that book, to empathize with Israeli victims of terrorism and to describe the terrible impact that terrorism as a tool of struggle has had on the prospects of peace for both peoples. But the cold shoulder that the Jewish community has showed him ever since brings shame on us, not on him.