IT’S a pity that former US president Jimmy Carter and diplomat Martin Indyk didn’t collaborate on the titles of their two books. Carter’s should have been called An Innocent Abroad, and Indyk’s We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land, because the title of one defines the content of the other.
Carter’s book, far from showing him able to solve the Arab-Israel dispute, identifies him as part of the problem. He, not Indyk, is the innocent abroad, having shown himself repeatedly to be partisan, naive and gullibly ingenuous, prey to the lies and distortions of Middle Eastern politicians, believing that what is said is the same thing as what is meant.
By dramatic contrast, if any world-ranking diplomat has an understanding of how peace really can be achieved in the Holy Land, it’s Indyk, whose years as a negotiator have taught him the art of understanding the labyrinthine minds of those who say one thing in a meeting with a US president, yet report an entirely different thing when they return and play to a home crowd.
Dealing with the same events in the same places at the same moment in history, the difference in perspective between the two books is staggering, illuminating both the byzantine politics of the Middle East and the power of reason over emotion in finding a solution.
Indyk, an Australian who rose to be president Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Israel, exhibits a universalist grasp of the immense complexity of the issues and brings an adroit mind to the nuances of the language, deeds and hidden agendas of the main players.
Carter, however, trots out the same hackneyed, adolescent viewpoint he has always held in his understanding of the Arab-Israel conflict. In Carter’s simplistic view, exemplified here as well as in his previous book, Israel is the problem, Israeli concession to Arab demands is the answer, and so Israel is the target of his credulous approach.
To be fair, Carter has somewhat softened his rhetoric in his latest book; in the past his anti- Israel partiality has opened him up to severe criticism not just from Jews, but from US administrations. Carter’s previous writings on the subject, which sculpt his messianic selfimportance, have been widely discredited for bias, inaccuracy and even plagiarism.
Dennis Ross, a Middle East envoy for both Republican and Democrat administrations, accused Carter of using maps as his own without citation or acknowledgement. So to some extent this latest book, subtitled A Plan That Will Work, is an attempt to define himself as an honest broker. But his conclusions about how peace can be achieved are devoid of any fresh perspective.
Israel must negotiate with its enemies, Israel must make concessions over settlements, Israel must accept a two-state solution; he merely reiterates what everybody else is saying and thinking. His book was written specifically to be read by Barack Obama — Carter says so — in the hope that the new President will follow the former president’s pathway to peace and involve him and the Council of Elders in the negotiations.
Indyk’s book, by contrast, is a cornucopia of erudite thought and gives us a detailed background of the behind-the-scenes pulling and pushing that went on in Clinton’s mission to be the man who brought peace to the Holy Land.
Indyk, one of America’s most skilled diplomats, was at the epicentre of events as Clinton tried to solve the world’s most intractable conflict, and his insights are invaluable.
He writes about those discussions from the perspective of one who stood just behind the seats of power, whispering into the ears of the rulers, advising and cajoling.
Innocent Abroad describes the skills he used to negotiate a pathway through the minefields of diplomacy and is open and honest about his team’s failings.
‘‘ Critics of the American approach at Camp David make much of our failure to involve the Arab states in the summit,’’ he writes of the final collapse of Clinton’s initiative to bring Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat together.
‘‘ They argue that Arafat would have been more responsive had he known that Egypt and Saudi Arabia would support a compromise on Jerusalem. Certainly, we were remiss in our overall approach to the Arabs in the run-up to Camp David and once there.’’
Indyk clearly defines the monumental efforts of diplomatic mediation between intractable enemies, even though the result was failure. Carter, however, takes up most of the pages in trawling through well-known background and history, adding little to our knowledge of what went on after his presidency, during which he came close to bringing peace to the Holy Land, but ultimately failed.
Carter’s book seems an attempt to atone for his previous, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid , which, when published, prompted the resignation of 14 top-level advisers from his Carter Centre. That title alone shows him to be unsuitable as a mediator for Obama, a role for which he patently yearns. Released on the day of Obama’s inauguration, his book seems to be little more than a job application. Yet this is the man who, against the strongest advice from the US State Department, went out of his way to meet some of the world’s most egregious dictators and leaders of terrorist organisations, believing his qualities of openness, Christian faith and belief in human rights would encourage them to change their ways.
Indyk, by contrast, raised and educated in Australia, where he earned his doctorate in international relations, and twice US ambassador to Israel, shows how he and his team of peace negotiators tirelessly trod the road strewn with obstacles, ultimately arriving nowhere.
His book, unlike Carter’s, is an instruction manual for how Obama will need to negotiate if he is to be part of a future peace agreement.
Detailing the frenetic day-by-day negotiations between Israeli and Arab leaders, his is an account of hope turned to bitter ashes, of great promise destroyed by lies and double dealing, and of great expectations that turned the White House into Bleak House.
One can almost feel the frustrations that Clinton, Indyk and other American negotiators felt at that final moment in Camp David when Arafat was offered so much, but didn’t have the courage to reach out and accept it.
‘‘ Had [ Ehud] Barak refused to continue the negotiations until the violence stopped, he might have spurred Clinton into a more serious effort to achieve a lasting ceasefire,’’ Indyk writes.
‘‘ But Barak’s willingness to continue the negotiations and to keep on improving the Israeli offer enabled Clinton to focus instead on the diplomacy of the deal and encouraged Arafat to keep the violence going, which demanded a higher price.
‘‘ It would prove to be an immense tragedy whose proportions are still being defined.’’ Alan Gold is a novelist and a past president of the anti-defamation unit of B’nai B’rith.