Litlove has a thoughtful post about tantrums of thought particularly when it comes to writers:
They write from the maelstrom of their own unprocessed emotions, peppering their rhetoric with ugly beta elements that provoke and arouse. It’s a powerful form of discourse because it prevents the reader from inhabiting a neutral position; s/he must react in turn to the word bombardment. But it makes language, and intellectual argument, into a bully, something we have to go along with because our defences have been overwhelmed, not because we have been convinced or persuaded of its intrinsic rightness.
She goes on to suggest, “Any writer who claims to be a reflective writer, a writer who chooses to attempt the risible task of making sense of the world via philosophy or literature or journalism ought to be a conceptual diplomat; someone who will represent all points of view without prejudice and whose personal stance is explicit but not dominant.”
Since I finished reading Jimmy Carter’s book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, Litlove’s post couldn’t have come at a better time. Carter writes about an issue that, especially in the United States, is so volatile that anyone who suggests Israel might be wrong about something can suddenly find themselves accused of anti-Semitism, a situation Carter is now all too familiar with. The cause, of course, is the deliberately provoking title of the book. But if you get past the title to actually read the book, Carter barely mentions apartheid.
What Carter does do is give us a general history of the Israel-Palestine conflict through his own personal involvement in it from the time he was governor of Georgia to the present. An essay in the New York Review of Books faults Carter for his memoir-like approach and his lack of follow up and argument on the topic of Palestine and apartheid. The essay does do a great job as sussing out the nuances of the meaning of apartheid, however, and makes it clear that Carter is not the first to use the word in relation to Israel and Palestine.
I admit, I was surprised Carter didn’t spend much time on the issues he raises with his choice of title. But I wouldn’t call the book a failure because of it. I liked the book quite a bit. I found his personal approach comfortable and enjoyable, it took the edge off a book that is filled with plenty to make anyone angry no matter what side you take. Carter manages to be, as Litlove puts it, a “conceptual diplomat.” Neither Israel, Palestine, their immediate neighbors, nor the United States, comes off looking good. But yet, I came away feeling sympathetic to everyone involved.
Perhaps if you are well-versed in the conflict you will probably not like this book very much. If you want depth and breadth, forest views and tree details, you will not like this book. But if you are like me and only know what you hear in the news and aren’t old enough to remember the six-day war in 1967, then Carter’s book might be a good place to start. It’s an overview, an outline, a summation of sorts.
There are no thought tantrums in this book. Carter does, at times, seem angry or frustrated, who can blame him? But you will find no polemic here. Maybe I am just imagining it, but it seemed I could hear his soft southern voice as I read, like we were having coffee together and he was telling me about what he knows of the Middle East and what he views as the issues that need to be solved. His title might be explosive, but he’s got people talking, which perhaps was his whole purpose in the first place.
Carter quotes Jonathan Kuttab, a Palestinian human rights lawyer, and I will leave with Kuttab’s words:
Everybody knows what it will take to achieve a permanent and lasting peace that addresses the basic interests of both sides: It’s a two-state solution. It’s withdrawal to 1967 borders. It’s dismantlement of the settlements. It’s some kind of shared status for a united Jerusalem, the capital of both parties. The West Bank and Gaza would have to be demilitarized to remove any security threats to Israel. Some kind of solution would have to be reached for the refugee problem, some qualified right of return, with compensation. Everyone knows the solution; the question is: Is there political will to implement it?