David Gregory Tries to Right Jimmy Carter’s Wrongs

If you’re a Democrat having public relations problems, there is probably no better place to go than NBC’s “Today” show. With that in mind, former President Jimmy Carter, in desperate need of a sympathetic voice to act as a magic elixir, spoke to NBC’s David Gregory Friday morning (video available here).

At first, it appeared that Gregory was actually going to take the former president to task for statements made in his controversial book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid”:

Let's get right to the heart of this matter and that one sentence that Andrea Mitchell referred to from the book…'It is imperative,' you wrote 'that the general Arab community and all significant Palestinian groups make it clear that they will end the suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism when international laws and the ultimate goals of the roadmap for peace are accepted by Israel.' You've since said that that sentence was improper and stupid. Well, so what did you mean exactly?

Great question. Amongst other things, the former president replied: “Well, the book has been corrected to make sure that later additions change that sentence. Obviously, I don't want terrorism to continue until sometime in the distant future when a final peace agreement is reached.”

Sadly, that’s about as controversial as Gregory wanted to get with this issue, for the next question was clearly designed to right all wrongs: “But Mr. President, let's be clear. So you do not believe that suicide attacks are a legitimate political response to the condition of Palestinians.” Carter simply responded, “Of course not.”

Just imagine Gregory being as diplomatic with President George W. Bush.

Later, Gregory asked another question of Carter that one couldn’t imagine him asking the current president: “Do you think you've been unfairly criticized? And, and that frankly you're speaking truth about a situation that a lot of people don't want to hear about?"

I’m not sure that’s hard enough to qualify as a softball. That’s probably more of a nerf ball.

Yet, the pièce de résistance in this interview was the final question which was clearly a setup to attack the Bush administration: "Can I ask you quickly, as you survey the situation, how you think peace between Israelis and Palestinians can be achieved now? What's the essential starting point?"

Carter took the nerf ball deep. However, in doing so, he seemed to dig himself back into the hole that this interview was designed to get him out of:

A central starting point, as I emphasized over and over in the book, is to just have any kind of peace talks. For the last six years, especially since Clinton left office, he led a notable effort to bring peace to the region, for the last six years there has not been one single day for negotiations of a substantive nature between the Palestinians and Israel and, at mean time, the terrible persecution of the Palestinians on their own land has continued. So those are the two things: To negotiate and bring peace and to let the oppression of the Palestinians be ended.

Yes, Mr. President, we certainly don’t ever want to talk about the oppression of Israelis in the middle of this decades-long battle, do we?

What follows is a full transcript of this segment as transcribed by the MRC’s Justin McCarthy.

David Gregory: "President Jimmy Carter, good morning."

Former President Jimmy Carter: "Good morning. It's good to be with you all."

Gregory: "Thank you. Let's get right to the heart of this matter and that one sentence that Andrea Mitchell referred to from the book. Let's put it up on the screen and let me read it and have you respond. 'It is imperative,' you wrote 'that the general Arab community and all significant Palestinian groups make it clear that they will end the suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism when international laws and the ultimate goals of the roadmap for peace are accepted by Israel.' You've since said that that sentence was improper and stupid. Well, so what did you mean exactly?"

Carter: "Well, the book has been corrected to make sure that later additions change that sentence. Obviously, I don't want terrorism to continue until sometime in the distant future when a final peace agreement is reached.  So anybody that reads the, the book or that sentence with any sort of logic, would know that is was just a mistake to put the word 'when' in which implies that I approve terrorism."

Gregory: "But Mr. President, let's be clear. So you do not believe that suicide attacks are a legitimate political response to the condition of Palestinians."

Carter: "Of course not."

Gregory: "Then what was motivating you when you wrote this initial sentence?"

Carter: "To equate the ultimate approval of, of peace in the middle east with a joint responsibility. Obviously, throughout the book and many other places, and I could quote them if I had time, I point out that I deplore and condemn any sort of terrorism, or any sort of violence against innocent civilians. So this was obvious if anyone took their time to read the book."

Gregory: "Is this the only part of the book that you regret?"

Carter: "Yes that's that one sentence. You know, there have been a few minor errors. I understand that Ken Stein, whom you quoted before me, is on a lecture circuit now around the country implying, you know, that I'm a liar, that I'm a plagiarist, that I'm anti-Israel and so forth. You know, I don't feel inclined to go around behind him or others and, and deny that. The book is very plain, and clear, and accurate. The title of the book was very carefully chosen.  It doesn't say that Israel is a racist nation. It doesn't say that there's any indications of apartheid inside Israel. The book is about Palestine. Peace and not apartheid and I made that-"

Gregory: "But Mr. President, you use the word apartheid not, not to communicate racism, you said. But you say there are a minority in Israel, the leadership presumably, that have a greed for land. And I wonder how you square that with the fact that Ariel Sharon, who came up with the settlement policy, abandoned it, forced 8,000 settlers out of Gaza, and Ehud Olmert was also elected on a platform of withdrawing from major portions of the West Bank."

Carter: "Withdrawing from major portions is not exactly right. There are still over 200 settlements in Palestinian land, and these settlements are on the choice sites on hill tops and in fertile valleys. They are sites that require all the major part of the vital water supplies.  In addition to the 205 settlements, there are highways that join these settlements from which Palestinians are excluded from traveling or even crossing in some cases. And in addition, within Palestinian land, again, there are over 500 checkpoints through which Palestinians have to go sometimes delayed for hours just to get from one part of their own land to the other part of their own land. So these kind of things, they need to be corrected. And I think before this book came out, I'm not particularly bragging on the book, these kinds of facts have never been adequately promulgated or debated in this country. So the book is designed to promote peace in Israel, a project to which I've devoted the last 30 years of my life. And also with justice and fairness of treatment for the Palestinians."

Gregory: "Do you think you've been unfairly criticized? And, and that frankly you're speaking truth about a situation that a lot of people don't want to hear about?"

Carter: "Yes exactly. You know, I've been involved in politics for a long time. I ran for state senate, I ran for governor of Georgia. I ran for president twice. Now there have been some, some sharp debates. But I have to say that this is the first time, as we've shown in the previous clip, I need not repeat it, that there have been ad hominem or personal attacks on my basic integrity, you know, and accusing me of being anti-Israel. I doubt that any other public official has, has been more dedicated to bringing peace to Israel and justice for the Palestinians than I have. So my record stands on it's own. I don't feel inclined to defend it." 

Gregory: "Can I ask you quickly, as you survey the situation, how you think peace between Israelis and Palestinians can be achieved now? What's the essential starting point?"

Carter: "A central starting point, as I emphasized over and over in the book, is to just have any kind of peace talks. For the last six years, especially since Clinton left office, he led a notable effort to bring peace to the region, for the last six years there has not been one single day for negotiations of a substantive nature between the Palestinians and Israel and, at mean time, the terrible persecution of the Palestinians on their own land has continued. So those are the two things: To negotiate and bring peace and to let the oppression of the Palestinians be ended."

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.