Maddow Lets Jimmy Carter's Dishonesty About Israel Pass Unchallenged

Rachel Maddow neglected to do her homework before her "exclusive" interview with Jimmy Carter last week -- "exclusive" in the sense that no one else was talking to Carter at the time.

Maddow asked the former president about the ransacking of the Israeli embassy in Egypt, followed by Carter making a jaw-dropper of a claim about Israel's alleged refusal to relinquish land as stipulated in its 1979 treaty with Egypt (video after page break) --

MADDOW : On the issue of Mideast peace ...

CARTER: Yes.

MADDOW: ... after the overthrown of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt in the Arab Spring uprising there, have you been distressed to see Egyptians attacking the Israeli embassy there and the sort of outpouring of upset and hostility to Israel in post-revolutionary Egypt?

CARTER: Upset but not surprised. When I was in office we had two major agreements between Israel and Egypt. One was the Camp David Accords in September of 1978. It basically dealt with the rights of the Palestinians. But Israelis agreed for the full application of United Nations Resolution 242, the prohibition against achieving land as a result of war. And the Israelis agreed to withdraw their military and political entities from occupied territories and to grant the Palestinians full autonomy. That was basically the Camp David accords.

And then we followed up that six months later in the spring of 1979 with the treaty of peace between Israel and Egypt. A lot of people now meld the two, but they're completely different. And in the last 30 years, the Israelis have not complied with any of their promises considering Palestinian rights or withdrawing from occupied territories. And basically Mubarak has ignored that failure.

Falsehoods are euphemized in many ways -- as misstatements,  bogus assertions, whoppers and the like. But when someone makes a demonstrably untrue statement and is in a position to be keenly aware it isn't truthful, the only accurate way to characterize it is as a lie. That is what Carter has done here.

Contrary to what he tells the credulous Maddow, Israel make only one legally binding promise in its treaty with Egypt when it came to giving up land -- that of the strategically vital Sinai Peninsula between the two nations. Which Israel began doing within two months of signing the treaty, starting in May 1979. By April 1982, less than three years later, Israel completed its withdrawal.

As the sole surviving major participant of the Camp David summit, one who has written extensively about the Mideast and traveled there frequently, a man who has always fancied himself as cerebral, who was described by Maddow after the interview as "running laps around me," Carter is surely aware that Israel's presence in the Sinai ended decades ago.

Regardless, he still pretends otherwise, secure in the knowledge that this particular interviewer, who also fancies herself a Rodinesque thinker, won't challenge him. Maddow posed questions to Carter with all the rigor one would expect of a Rolling Stone stringer fawning over a creaky rocker who hasn't produced a hit in decades.

(The entire seven-minute segment with Carter on the Sept. 16 Maddow show, from which he is quoted here, can be seen at this link to my YouTube channel).

Had Maddow been interested in background research before speaking with Carter, she might have read a September 2003 article in Smithsonian magazine timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Camp David summit. In the article, former Associated Press diplomacy reporter Bob Cullen recounted pivotal moments from the 13-day conference --

Faced once again with disaster, Carter made two decisions that would prove critical. He "decoupled" proposals covering the Sinai from the ones covering the West Bank and Gaza. Previously, those problem areas had been viewed as linked. The move essentially separated Israeli-Egyptian disputes from Israeli-Palestinian disputes. For the Israelis, it raised the prospect that they could get peace  and recognition from Egypt without jeopardizing their plans for the West Bank. Carter also began to rely heavily on the pragmatic (Aharon) Barak (legal expert and future president of Israeli Supreme Court) as an interlocutor.

... An aide arranged for (Israeli prime minister Menachem) Begin to phone Ariel Sharon, who is currently prime minister but then served as minister of agriculture and represented the pro-settlement forces in Likud. Sharon told Begin he would not object to dismantling the Sinai settlements if it meant a peace with Egypt.

Finally, on the 12th day, Begin budged. He told Carter he would let the Knesset vote on whether to dismantle the Sinai settlements. With that, the Camp David accords hove into view. To be sure, they were not a full-fledged treaty, which is legally binding, but rather statements of principles that would govern future negotiations. Still, Egypt would get back the Sinai. Israel would get a peace treaty and diplomatic recognition. For the West Bank and Gaza, there would be a plan for autonomy negotiations, followed, in five years, by a decision about their final status.

"Breakthrough," Carter recalls thinking.

A breakthrough Carter no longer recalls, at least when he's on MSNBC.

Israel also pulled out of southern Lebanon in 2000 after nearly two decades of occupation following its invasion in 1982 in an attempt to destroy the Palestinian Liberation Army. Five years later, Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip.

What have these good-faith efforts brought to Israel? Suicide bombings on a scale unmatched anywhere in the world. Thousands of rockets from Hezbollah and Hamas, from north and south, indiscriminately targeting military and civilian alike. Kidnappings of its soldiers, including one, Gilad Shalit, whose whereabouts remain unknown after five years.

Having conceded its hard-fought buffers in the Sinai, Gaza and Lebanon, a country the size of New Jersey is less able to defend itself from an unapologetic savagery intent on Israel's destruction.

What is most egregious about Carter's dishonesty is that it defiles the memory of two men far braver and no longer in a position to defend themselves -- Begin and Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat, both long dead. Sadat in particular suffered most for his actions at Camp David, though it was Begin who made the most tangible concession. Three years after the summit, Sadat was gunned down during a military parade in Cairo by Islamists in the Egyptian military. 
 

Jack Coleman
Jack Coleman
Ex-liberal from People's Republic of Massachusetts