Ah, Jimmy Carter. The man who dared to call Israel what it is, an apartheid state. Hated by the AIPAC crowd and the right wing, who froth and sneer at the least mention of his name. But Jimmy, Jimmy is the best friend Israel ever had, just like the friend who tells you that drinking till you puke every night is ruining your life is a good friend, even if you don’t want to hear it, even if you spit in his eye and swear at him. And when he shows up again, a few weeks later and tries to make you stop, tries to make you see that you’re destroying yourself, alienating your wife and screwing over your kids, he’s still a lot better friend than the all of those who say "Here’s another bottle of hooch, Sam. And just between you and me, beating the wife and kids, it’s what they need."
Answer this question: who negotiated the only lasting peace between Israel and any of its enemies?
Answer: Jimmy Carter.
A true friend helps you when you need it. Tells you when your own behaviour is destroying you—and doesn’t give up on you, even when you won’t accept his help.
By those metrics, it’s Jimmy Carter and not George Bush, or Condi Rice, or the ultra pro-Likud neo-cons, who has been Israel’s best friend for almost 40 years now.
Because yes, Israel is an apartheid state. When half your population aren’t allowed to vote; aren’t allowed to travel freely either within or without the country; are denied basic health care; are not given fair trials; are not allowed to live in anything but ethnic enclaves and are subject to torture, starvation and deprivation—well, it’s hard to call it anything but Apartheid.
Now, assuming they had a moment of candor, pro-Likud types might say "who cares. Israel has the guns." And it’s certainly true that seizing Palestinian land and water and keeping them down, hard, has more or less worked for the Israelis, minus a few missiles that kill less than 1/10th the Israelis as Israeli conventional arms kill Palestinians. That sort of math looks like it’s really in favour of the Israelis. The Palestinians may kill a few Israelis, but the cold hard bottom line is that they’re no real threat to Israel and Hamas can say they don’t believe in Israel’s right to exist, but there’s not a damned thing they can do to make those words means anything.
Because the real math isn’t so good if you believe in a "Jewish" Israel. Barely more than half the population is Jewish, and they are being outbred by the Muslim population. Even worse, emigration to Israel isn’t what it was in the days when Jews were fleeing the Soviet Union; somehow Israel just doesn’t look all that attractive when people can live in places without constant religious-ethnic violence.
It won’t be long, 15 years at most, before Jews are outnumbered in Israel and the Occupied Territories. And the moment that day comes, anyone who believes in democracy even a little bit, will have to be awfully discomfited by the fact that it’s no longer a majority opressing a minority, but a religious minority opressing a religious majority.
People who are actually Israel’s friends, who actually want Israel to survive, remember what happened to South Africa; and they know that it can, and will, happen to Israel as well.
Which leads us to the two-state solution.
Who needs a Palestinian state more, Israeli Jews or occupied Palestinians?
Israeli Jews. Palestinians have now been under occupation for at least 40 years (some might count it longer). The vast vast majority have never known anything but Israeli rule. What’s another 20 years of misery? Or even 30 or 40, when at the end of it they wind up controlling all of Israel and the occupied territories?
Sound unlikely? Well, the whites in South Africa had more than enough military force to keep the blacks down too. Like Israel, they even had nukes. Somehow it didn’t do them much good in the end, did it?
People forget that originally it wasn’t Palestinians who wanted a two state solution. They wanted a one state solution. They wanted the right to vote in Israeli elections, since they were ruled by Israelis. And yes, they are ruled by Israelis still, the Palestinian government is a joke. When Israel can seize half the cabinet, the country is not independent. When Israelis determine which Palestinians can leave the country and when, Israel is the government.
The two-state solution is to the advantage of Israelis who want to maintain Israel as a Jewish state. They need to split off the Palestinians into their own state to stop the ticking population bomb.
The problem is that Israelis want to give Palestinians a state that doesn’t have sufficient water or most of the best land. Israeli colonization of the occupied territories, the settlements, invariably stand on the best land with the best access to water. When the media blamed Arafat for the failure of Clinton’s two-state initiative they sneeringly said that the Israelis had offered almost all the land the Palestinians wanted. What they didn’t say, is that that land they hadn’t offered, was the land with enough water to make Palestine viable. Arafat refused. If he had accepted his own people would probably have killed him.
Now let’s add in the usual caveats—the Palestinians have hardly been angels; in fact they have been thugs. They have often negotiated in bad faith (though certainly no more often and probably less often than the Israelis, in recent years). They do engage in terrorism, though what the difference to the victims between being killed by a suicide bomber or missile is compared to being killed by a tank, helicopter or bomb has always escaped me—except that tanks, helicopters and bombs kill far more people than the weapons of a terrorist or guerilla. They have certainly often been stupid and done things that weren’t in their best interests.
But the bottom line is that Israel is the party that can make or break negotiations. Israel is the party with the full army. Israel is the party with the money. Israel is the party that refuses to actually negotiate with the lawfully elected representative (which is Hamas) of the Palestinians.
And Israel needs a peace more than the Palestinians do. That seems counterintuitive, but the Palestinians are on a path that leads to victory and the Israelis are on a path that leads to loss. Yes, the Palestinians will suffer more, much more, than the Israelis getting there, but that’s not relevant to the end-state, except in that they may not be very gracious to the Israelis once they have won. Germans killed far more Russians than vice-versa and lost. America never lost a battle in Vietnam and killed at a 10:1 ratio. It didn’t matter.
To win any sort of conflict you have to ask what your victory condition is, then find a way to get there. And as the Vietnamese showed, sometimes you can lose every battle except the last one and still achieve victory. Israelis keep thinking that winning the battles means they’re winning the war. They aren’t, they’re losing.
A true friend tells you when you’re walking down the path to defeat. A true friend tells you when you’re acting despicably. And that’s why Jimmy Carter is Israel’s best friend in America—the only President to negotiate a lasting peace between Israel and one of its enemies and the only major figure to tell the Israelis that they’re walking a path to their own destruction.
Here’s hoping Israel wakes up and listens and acts. If it doesn’t, within the lifetime of many of us here today, there will be no Israel as it exists today; there will be no "Jewish" state.