Had you asked anyone in the 1980s what James Addison Baker III and James Earl Carter Jr. had in common it would have been hard to see anything these two political opposites shared, certainly not a political philosophy. One was a Houstonian, a former Democrat with big oil affiliations; the other was a peanut farmer and Baptist church deacon who became governor of Georgia despite his liberal views.
Ask today, however, and the answer would be Israel. Both men see Israel as the root cause of all that is wrong in the world today. The proof is in their most recent offerings-Jimmy Carter’s new book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, and Baker’s Iraq Study Group findings, which blames Israel’s territorial holdings for the chaos in Iraq and just about everything else that is wrong in the Middle East.
Both works suffer from the same grave flaw. They assume-or at least want the reader to believe-that Israel is an aggressor nation out to colonize its neighbors. There is no hint in either work that either Carter or Baker appreciate why Israel is in control of the “occupied territories”: (1) It was attacked by Arab states determined to destroy it. (2) In fending off the three-front attack, it captured land then occupied by three of those states. (3) When it sought to return those territories (with some border adjustments) in exchange for peace treaties, it received a loud “three no’s” instead-“no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel.” As did the defeated attackers declare at the 1967 Khartoum summit.
There is also no indication in either work that, had Israel been able to return the captured territories in 1967, it would have been returning those lands to illegal occupiers. While the Golan Heights may have been Syrian land, the West Bank was illegally occupied by Jordan from 1948 until mid-1967 and Gaza was illegally occupied by Egypt during that time. Both territories belonged to the Palestinian Arab state Israel agreed to on November 29, 1947, but that no Arab state was willing to see born.
Let us be clear to Both Carter and Baker and those who subscribe to their philosophy about this often ignored fact. It was not Israel that originally kept a Palestinian Arab state from coming into existence nearly 60 years ago, it was the Arab states that did so; and it was the Arab states that continued to do so for several decades. All that happened since that November day in 1947 flowed from that refusal and the illegal Arab occupations that followed.
Carter’s biased misread of the facts overlooks real attempts by Israel and others since then to achieve peace, only to be thwarted time and again by a Palestinian leadership unprepared to make peace. Yasir Arafat ultimately balked at an incredible deal for peace, and Hamas is dead set against even thinking about any deal that does not involve Israel’s total destruction. On the Syria/Lebanon side, Hezbollah seems to be powering the anti-Israel engines. If the return of Gaza shows us anything, land for peace is no guarantee that there will be peace.
As for the ISG, its report on Iraq mentions Israel 35 times. While Israel is not its sole focus, the report does try to make the case that the difficulties the U.S. is having in Iraq are partly caused by the lack of peace between Israel and the Palestinians on the one hand and Israel and the Syrians on the other. Baker’s notion that Israel’s returning the Golan will somehow make Syria a friendly and a willing partner for the West is as flawed as the notion that one can negotiate with Iran’s current president.
If neither man is inherently opposed to Israel, then both nevertheless seem willing to have Israel play Russian roulette with its very existence. This would be achieved by a disturbing adaptation of the scientific method of research: Isolate the phenomenon of interest by eliminating or accounting for extraneous factors, and repeatedly test the system under study after making limited, controlled changes in it.
Here is how that works: On the Arab street, Israel gets the blame for all the ills in the Arab world. Remove the “Israel problem” from the Middle East mix and let the Arab street identify the next bogeyman in line, and the next and the next, until finally the true root is exposed and can be worked on.
If this be science, it is callous science, a grand experiment that puts Jewish life at risk on a “what if.” Israel is not a mere element and the Middle East is not a Petri-dish.
The fact is, though, that both Carter and Baker have long histories of opposing Israel. Carter, early on influenced by his National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski’s adversarial policies toward Israel, and Baker, with his well-known oil-based Arabism, now feel emboldened to hammer Israel. Iraq is a rising sore point for U.S. voters and any answer offered now will seem virtuous-even if that means selling out the only true democracy in the region.
The opinions of these men are part of a growing mindset within political circles of every philosophy. Now, Robert Gates, a student of the Baker-Brzezinski ideology, is the incoming secretary of defense. Israel should expect pressure to mount on it to once again return land for nothing more that the promise of a cease-fire during the actual handover as President Bush begins to embrace an “anything that appears to work” attitude.
Carter’s book and Baker’s ISG report bring the vastly separate ideologies of the left and right to a convergence point on Israel. The classical anti-Semitic canard that has beleaguered Jews for centuries-that they are what ails the world- may now begin to evolve here in the United States as it is intensifying throughout Europe.
The challenge for America will be to stick with logic and not give in to the fears and animus of the predictable Arabist analysis of Israel that is coming from both the left and the right. Neither Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid nor the ISG report should be taken as reflecting sound diplomatic policy. Rather, they should be seen for what they are: Last opportunities for the old anti-Israel guard to gain a foothold in the new political era.