Jimmy Carter on Conflict in the Middle East
Former President Jimmy Carter addresses the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in his new book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid. Carter has founded a conflict resolution organization and won a Nobel Peace Prize for his mediation work.
Other segments from the episode on November 27, 2006
DATE November 27, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Jimmy Carter discusses the Middle East crisis
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest, former president Jimmy Carter, has written a new book about the
obstacles to peace in the Middle East and what can be done to overcome those
obstacles. The book is controversial and the title helps explain why. It's
called "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." As we'll discuss in a moment, Carter
describes Israel as practicing a policy of apartheid, depriving Palestinians
in Gaza and the West Bank of their basic human rights. Perhaps Carter's
greatest achievement as president was negotiating The Camp David Accords,
which created peace between Israel and Egypt. Yet almost three decades later,
there is still not peace in the Middle East. There's been some forward
movement in the past couple of days. Yesterday, Israeli troops pulled out of
Gaza following a Palestinian cease-fire. Today Israel's prime minister Ehud
Olmert said he was prepared to make concessions if Palestinians are serious
about peace and willing to renew talks.
President Carter, welcome back to FRESH AIR. What's your reaction to this
cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza?
Former President JIMMY CARTER: Well, first of all, it's long overdue and I
think it's very promising for Israel to withdraw from Gaza for the second
time; and for the Palestinians, all factions of them, to agree to forego any
further firing of rockets into Israel, I think, is a major step in the right
direction. And it's the first indication in a number of months of any
inclination on the part of both sides at the same time to agree on something
GROSS: What would a good next step be?
Pres. CARTER: Well, we haven't any, even one day, of substantive peace talks
between Israel and any of her neighbors in the last six years, and my hope is
that this will give a glimmer of hope for the Israelis and the Palestinians to
sit down and talk to each other under the sponsorship of either the United
States or the so-called international quartet: which includes, as you know,
the United States and Russia and the United Nations and the European Union.
So some kind of peace talks are long overdue. I think this is the first time
since Israel has been a nation that no effort has been made for this long to
bring the two disputing parties together.
GROSS: You suggest that the United States could help bring the parties
together and help in negotiations. Do you think the United States still has
that same kind of standing as a broker for peace that it did a few years ago?
Do you think, that between the war in Iraq and the United States' reluctance
to push for a cease-fire immediately after the hostilities began between
Israel and Hezbollah over the summer, that its position has been compromised?
Pres. CARTER: Yes, its position has been compromised. There's no doubt
about that because in the past even--I say particularly during the time of
George Bush Sr., there was a general feeling, I think it was accurate, that
the United States was taking a fairly objective point of view between Israel
and the Palestinians. That is no longer the case under George Bush Jr., when
we have acquiesced or looked the other way and almost always approved whatever
Israel chose to do, and so it's long over due. And I think that's the most
important impediment to the United States being acceptable, even more so than
our invasion of Iraq. If the United States is not an adequate mediator or
convener of peace talks, then I would prefer to see the international
quartet--which includes the United States, as I just said--also includes
Russia and the United Nations and the European Union. That might be a better
and more objective forum to orchestrate some kind of new effort toward peace
GROSS: Ehud Olmert has said that he would be willing to have talks with the
Palestinians if the Palestinians give up the right to return and recognize
Israel. Would you approve of those two preconditions? Do you think that
there should be preconditions to talk?
Pres. CARTER: No Palestinian leader could survive a week who gave up their
right of return, which is guaranteed under the United Nations Resolution 194,
and has been one of the prime basis for any sort of reconciliation in the
Middle East. There could be some nuances of it, that is the right of return
would apply just to the West Bank and Gaza, with Israel having a veto over
anybody who came back into Israel. That has been worked out with a proposal
under the Geneva accords. But so far, neither Olmert nor his predecessor,
Sharon, has been willing to negotiate at all with the Palestinians, even
though their choice and any choice of the United States, that is Mahmoud
Abbas, was the prime minister under Arafat for three years and was later
elected to be president. And he was characterized by the United States and
others as the moderate voice of the Palestinians. But even when he was
ordained as the one to represent the Palestinians, still not a single day of
negotiations has been permitted by Israel or the United States.
GROSS: Well, it's very problematic right now for Israel to negotiate with the
Palestinians since Hamas heads the government.
Pres. CARTER: Well, I don't think so. As a matter of fact, the prime
minister, who is a member of Hamas, Haniya, has said that he strongly supports
direct talks between Olmert and Abbas, representing Israel and the
Palestinians, and that if an agreement is reached with that negotiation and
approved by the Palestinian people, then Hamas will accept it. But until an
effort's made, there's no way to ascertain if this is a good faith commitment
GROSS: Yeah, but if Hamas doesn't even recognize Israel, where do you go with
Pres. CARTER: Well, when I asked that same question to Hamas, urging them to
recognize Israel, they said, `Which Israel are you asking us to recognize?
Are you asking us to recognize the Israel that's occupying the West Bank? Are
you asking us to recognize the Israel that is occupying East Jerusalem? We
don't know which Israel you're talking about.' As a matter of fact, the Arab
world, as represented by the Arab League, 23 nations, came together in 2002
and adopted a proposal made by then Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi
Arabia--he's now the king--that prescribed the full recognition of Israel to
live in peace among all its neighbors within its recognized borders. And this
was approved unanimously by the Arab League. So I think that the overwhelming
sense of commitment in the Arab world is to recognize Israel provided Israel
would withdraw from occupied territories, as is required by the United Nations
resolutions, by the US government official position, by the commitment that
Israeli leaders and their Parliament had made at the Camp David accords in
1978-79, and again in the Oslo Agreement sponsored by Norway, for which all of
these Israeli leaders received, by the way, the Nobel Peace Prize. And is
also approved by the majority of Israelis, that is to exchange peace for
Israel for the relinquishing of confiscated land that belongs to the
GROSS: You know, you just said before about the head of the Hamas government
having said, `Well, which Israel should we recognize? Is it the Israel, the
pre-1967 borders? Is it the Israel that, you know, has the West bank and the
Gaza as occupied territories?' Isn't that kind of like an evasive answer? I
mean, couldn't they say, `Well, we recognize Israel's right to exist but we
don't recognize Israel's right to be in the West Bank and the Gaza?' Isn't
there a way recognizing Israel's right to exist without ceding the larger
Pres. CARTER: Yes, I think there is a way to do it and I wish that all the
Palestinians would do this. As you probably know, back in the early 1990s, in
1993, as a matter of fact, when Arafat went to Oslo and negotiated an
agreement with the Israelis, at that time the PLO had not recognized Israel's
right to exist. And as a result of the Oslo agreement, Arafat did come back.
He did recognize Israel's right to exist, and the PLO official position is
that Israel does have a right to exist. As a matter of fact, the only
Palestinian organization that is recognized by Israel, or the United States,
by the way, is the PLO. And the PLO is headed by Mahmoud Abbas, who is very
eager to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians and conclude an agreement
with Israel. But, obviously, I wish that all Arabs would just say
unequivocally, as the Arab League has said in 2002, that we recognize Israel's
right to exist and live in peace, provided Israel will withdraw to their
recognized international borders. That would be my preference, obviously.
GROSS: Yeah, but, how to you negotiate with people who won't even recognize
your right to exist? Where do you start there?
Pres. CARTER: Well, there's no need for Israel to negotiate with Hamas.
Israel doesn't recognize the government within which Hamas is playing any
official role. The only organization that Israel recognizes that represents
the Palestinians is the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the PLO. That's
the only Palestinian organization that's recognized by the United Nations as
well, and Mahmoud Abbas is the only leader of the PLO. So if Israel wants to
negotiate a peace agreement, then they don't have to acknowledge the presence
of Hamas. They just have to recognize the PLO, which they do recognize, and
negotiate with Abbas.
GROSS: And you think that Hamas would abide by such an agreement?
Pres. CARTER: The only thing I know is what the Hamas leaders have said,
that they would abide by such an agreement if it's approved by the Palestinian
people. And that is the premise that I negotiated personally in 1978 between
the Israelis and the Egyptians, and it was approved by the Israeli parliament,
that is that any agreement that was reached between Israel and the
Palestinians would be submitted to the Palestinians for approval. So that you
couldn't have just a few leaders get inside a closed room and negotiate. The
Palestinian people themselves would have to approve.
As a matter of fact, the most recent poll that was done by the Harry Truman
Institute, in one of the universities in Israel, has shown that 77 percent of
all the Palestinian people do approve a two-state solution and do approve
negotiations between Mahmoud Abbas, the head of PLO, and the Israel leader
Prime Minister Olmert.
GROSS: My guest is Jimmy Carter. His new book is called "Palestine: Peace
Not Apartheid." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Jimmy Carter.
Jimmy Carter, let's talk about your book and let's start with the title. The
title is already getting you in trouble with a lot of people. The title is
"Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." That's a very provocative title. Why not
call it something neutral like `The Never-Ending Middle East Crisis: What
Each Side Needs to Do'? Did you want to be deliberately provocative with this
Pres. CARTER: Well, you know, when you write your book about the Middle
East, you can name it yourself.
GROSS: Yeah, I'm working on it now.
Pres. CARTER: Well, I made it plain with two words in that title that it
shouldn't be provocative. One is the title "Palestine," and that does not
include the nation of Israel. It includes the West Bank and Gaza. Secondly,
I said "Peace Not Apartheid." I'm not advocating apartheid, but I am
recognizing that within the occupied territories there is an element of
apartheid, not based on racism, as I make plain in the book but based on the
desire of a minority of Israelis to confiscate Palestinian land. And in this
confiscation of land and colonization of property deep within the West Bank,
there has been developed a system of apartness--I call it apartheid--that in
many ways is more oppressive than was apartheid in South Africa.
The land of the Palestinian people has been confiscated. It's been occupied
and colonized illegally by Israelis, more than 200 settlements in the West
Bank. Those settlements have been joined with each other and with Jerusalem
by highways. The highways are prohibited to be used by Palestinians. In
fact, there's a law that's going into effect in January that makes it illegal
for any Palestinian to ride in an automobile that has an Israeli license plate
At the same time, a horrendous wall is being built, rapidly, deep within the
West Bank, deep within Palestinian land, that ultimately is designed
completely to encapsulate, or to imprison, the remaining Palestinians on the
remnant of their own land. And the ends of the wall will reach at the north
and south of the West Bank to the Jordan River Valley, which is completely
controlled by the Israelis.
At the same time, Gaza, which is about 30 miles separated from the West Bank
by Israel, is completely enclosed in a high wall, and there are only two doors
in that wall that are open. One is open into Israel, which is mostly closed,
and the other door is open into Egypt's Sinai, and it's closed most of the
time by Israeli forces. And no goods can travel from Gaza into Egypt Sinai,
only people can go who have a special pass. So, in effect, the walls around
Gaza and the wall that's being built around what's left of the West Bank are
imprisonment walls. There couldn't be a worse case of apartness, or
apartheid, anywhere in the world.
GROSS: Are you afraid that by using the word "apartheid" in the title that
you lose a lot of Israelis and Israel supporters, just in the title? I'll
read you a couple of quotes here. Nancy Pelosi says, in reaction to the
title, "It's wrong to suggest that the Jewish people would support a
government in Israel or anywhere else that institutionalizes ethnically based
oppression, and Democrats reject that allegation vigorously." John Conyers
says the use of the word apartheid in a title, quote, "does not serve the
cause of peace, and the use of it against the Jewish people in particular, who
have been victims of the worst kind of discrimination, discrimination
resulting in death, is offensive and wrong." So are you concerned that even
though you think Israel's practice of apartness, that by using the word
apartheid you risk alienating just the people you want to convince?
Pres. CARTER: Well, I would like to convince Nancy Pelosi and John Conyers,
but what I wanted to do is to express a fact that is almost completely avoided
and not expressed in the United States, but is well known in other parts of
the world. And let me repeat, I am not referring to the nation of Israel. I
did not include that in the title at all. I'm just referring to Palestine,
which is the area outside of Israel, in the West Bank and Gaza, in which
Israelis are practicing apartheid. Within Israel, they are not doing that.
So that's a distinction that should be drawn. And I realized when I chose
this title that it would be provocative. I hope it provokes people to
actually read the book and to find out the facts, none of which have been
disputed, about what is going on in Palestine in the Palestinian territory,
not what's going on inside the legally constituted boundaries of Israel.
GROSS: Alan Dershowitz, the lawyer, wrote an op-ed about your book, and he
calls your book one-sided. He said that you don't explain, quote, "that
Israel's motivation for holding onto land it captured in a defensive war is
the prevention of terrorism. Israel has tried on several occasions to
exchange land for peace and what it got instead was terrorism, rockets, and
kidnappings, launched from the returned land." So what's your reaction to
Dershowitz's criticism that the book is one-sided? You're not criticizing the
Palestinians and you're not explaining that Israel's policies are reactions to
Pres. CARTER: Well, there's no doubt that there have been terrible acts of
violence by the Palestinians and also by the Israelis. I give the actual
statistics about the number of people who were killed in the so-called times
of balance, the first intifada and the second intifada, as a matter of fact.
There have been about four times as many Palestinians killed, almost seven
times as many Palestinian children killed as Israeli children killed. Any
deaths are deplorable, and my hope is that we can have a peace agreement so
that these deaths will not continue.
Another thing I've heard Professor Dershowitz mention is the holding of the
Israeli soldier, captured by Palestinians by digging a tunnel under the wall
to escape from Gaza, where they captured an Israeli soldier. And that's true.
I wish that the Palestinians would release this soldier. At the same time,
Israel is holding about 9,000 Palestinian prisoners, including 300 children,
some of them 12 years old, and about 100 women. And as soon as the
Palestinians captured the Israeli soldier, they offered to swap the soldier to
Israel for the release of some of the women and children. Israel has refused
to consider this kind of swap. So it's a terrible situation, and I hope that
it can be corrected, and I hope that my book--with a provocative title, to use
your word--will encourage people just to find out what's going on. And I
might say, to repeat myself, that a substantial majority of Israeli citizens
have always favored the exchange of Palestinian territory for peace. It's a
minority of Israelis that are violating international law and are perpetrating
this persecution of Palestinians.
GROSS: Jimmy Carter will be back in the second half of the show. His new
book is called "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." I'm Terry Gross and this is
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with former president Jimmy
Carter. He's written a new book about the obstacles to peace in the Middle
East and how to overcome them. It's a controversial book with a controversial
title, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." It accuses the Israelis of
practicing a policy of apartheid in Gaza and the West Bank.
Your book seems to really be asking Americans to examine how Israel has
conducted itself in terms of its policy toward the Palestinians and its
willingness, or lack of willingness, to negotiate. And let me read a quote
from your book that I think will probably be pretty controversial, too. And
you write, "There are constant and vehement political and media debates in
Israel concerning its policies in the West Bank, but because of powerful
political, economic and religious forces in the US, the Israeli government
decisions are rarely questioned or condemned. Voices for Jerusalem dominate
in our media, and most American citizens are unaware of circumstances in the
Pres. CARTER: That's exactly right. That's exactly correct. And I think if
you would just read the US media and watch the television and listen to the
radio, you would rarely see any voice of strenuous opposition to Israeli
policies in the Palestinian territories. However, when I go to Israel--which
I have done often, and with Carter Center election observers all over the West
Bank and Gaza and much of Israel. There are intense debates that go on in
Haaretz newspaper and the Jerusalem Post, on television and radio in Israel.
None of those debates, of a detectable nature, have existed in the United
States. I think it's time for us to look at both sides of this issue and...
GROSS: But you were saying there are powerful political and economic and
religious forces in America...
Pres. CARTER: Yes.
GROSS:...that make it difficult to question Israeli policy. Did those voices
that you're describing, that you say exist in the United States, did they
interfere at all in your negotiations on the Middle East?
Pres. CARTER: No, they didn't because I basically ignored them and went
directly to the route that was within my purview, using the power and
influence of the White House to bring the two primary antagonists together,
and I would say the proof is in the pudding. You know, it took me a long time
after Sadat did agree to recognize Israel, to open up the Suez Canal. Israel
agreed to withdraw from the Sinai Desert. As you know, Sadat was--Egypt was
isolated by the Arab side and eventually Sadat was assassinated. Later, when
Rabin and Peres went to Oslo and met with Arafat and negotiated the Oslo
Agreements, the aftermath of that was that Rabin was assassinated by a radical
Jew in Israel who said he wanted to stop the peace process. So there have
been a lot of powerful forces that have opposed courageous steps toward peace,
but the overwhelming majority of Israelis and all their neighbors want peace.
And I think that it's time in this country for the television, radio,
newspapers, and even members of the House and Senate, to acknowledge that the
key issues should be addressed. But at this time and in the last number of
years, there has not been any substantive discussions of the facts that are
included in my book. And for the last six years, as I've said, there have
been no effort at all by the United States to orchestrate peace talks.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Jimmy Carter. He's written a
new book called "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid."
Now you write on the book none of the options for peace are attractive for all
Israelis. You describe Israelis' current policy as a system of apartheid with
two people occupying the same land but separated, with Israel dominating and
suppressing violence by depriving Palestinians of their basic human rights.
You don't like that as an option. Here's the other two options you see. One
is forcible annexation of Palestine and its legal absorption into Israel. But
that would give Palestinians the right to vote in Israeli elections, which
basically means it wouldn't be a Jewish state very long.
It's the third option that you think is the best and the right option, and
that is, as you describe it, withdrawal to the 1967 border as specified in the
UN Resolution 242 and as promised in Camp David and Oslo, and prescribed in
the Roadmap for Peace. And you say this is not only the most attractive
option, it's the only one that can ultimately be acceptable as a basis for
peace. And a lot of people would say in answer to that, `Well, easier said
than done.' If Israel pulls out of the West Bank and Gaza, and Palestinians,
they just form there in spite of whatever promises are made, Israel may have
armed enemies on their borders, firing rockets, sending in suicide bombers and
initiating acts of war. How can Israel be assured that if there is peace
talks, if Israel completely withdraws from the territories, that they will
actually not be threatened across the borders?
Pres. CARTER: Well, there's one caveat that I put in that third option that
you didn't mention. That is that the borders of 1967 can be modified by good
faith talks, that is, land swaps.
Pres. CARTER: Swapping land on the West Bank to Israel, which could include,
under the optimum premises, maybe half of the total Israeli settlers who are
living in the West Bank, let them stay there. In return for that, Israel
would swap to the Palestinians an equivalent amount of land either east of
Gaza or a few places inside the current nation of Israel. So with good faith
talks, there could be an accommodation approved overwhelmingly by the
Palestinians and the Israelis that, I think, would be the best premise for
peace. Obviously no one could guarantee that there wouldn't be isolated
instances of violence in the future. But with the entire Arab world already
having expressed its approval for such an agreement, and with it having been
negotiated, as I describe in one of the chapters in the book called "The
Geneva Agreement," I think this accommodation is the best chance and it would
have an overwhelming offering of permanent peace for the Israeli people.
GROSS: My impression from the book is that there is parts of the Camp David
agreement that you think Israel has failed to follow. Am I right?
Pres. CARTER: Yes.
Pres. CARTER: That's correct.
GROSS: What are they, and I'm wondering too how that affects your reaction to
Israel, if you are, like, personally disappointed in Israel because you
negotiated these peace talks and you think Israel hasn't completely complied
Pres. CARTER: Well, at Camp David, Menahem Begin, prime minister of Israel,
agreed to withdraw the political and military forces of Israel from the
occupied territories, and the Israeli Knesset, the parliament, approved this
commitment. Menahem Begin also signed the Camp David Accords, which include
specifically United Nations Resolution 242. And one of the phrases in there
confirms the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force and also
requires Israel to withdraw from occupied territories. Those commitments,
freely made by Prime Minister Begin and approved by the Israel government at
the time, have not been honored, and instead the Israelis have continued to
occupy additional Palestinian land and, in effect, confiscated it and then to
colonize it and then to connect those isolated more than 200 settlements with
each other and with Jerusalem. All providing obstacles to any sort of peace
process unless Israel will withdraw from those territories. So in a number of
ways, Israel has defaulted on the Camp David Accords.
The one major thing, however, that Israel did, that's very gratifying to me,
was to honor their commitment to withdraw from Egyptian territory. Israel was
occupying, as you know, the Sinai region, all the way up to the Suez Canal.
Israel did indeed withdraw from that territory within two years after the
peace treaty was consummated.
GROSS: So do you feel like personally frustrated with Israel because you
think they haven't followed Camp David?
Pres. CARTER: Well, I would personally, obviously, prefer that both sides
complied with the agreement that I helped negotiate, yes. And I am frustrated
with Israel that they haven't done so. But to be repetitive on your
program--I hope you don't mind--this action by the Israelis to violate the
agreement is a minority of Israelis, consistently. Down through the decades,
public opinion polls have shown that a majority of Israeli citizens themselves
favor the withdrawal from Palestinian territory in exchange for peace. It's a
minority that has violated that, and this minority has come into power,
overwhelmingly, after the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, and so far
they are prevailing.
GROSS: My guest is Jimmy Carter. His new book about the Middle East is
called "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." We'll talk more after a break. This
is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Jimmy Carter. We're talking
about his new book which is called "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid."
Now you say in your book that private discussions with Arab leaders are much
more promising than their public statements would lead one to believe. Could
you give us some examples of that?
Pres. CARTER: Yes. For instance, when I was negotiating between Began and
Sadat back in the late '70s, privately I had the full support of the
Jordanians, King Hussein, and the full support of the king and crown prince of
Saudi Arabia for what I was doing. In fact, when I concluded the peace treaty
in April of '79 and I took off in Air Force One from Jerusalem, having reached
an agreement finally, the first message I got was from the king of Saudi
Arabia congratulating me on this momentous step toward peace. A few days
later, Saudi Arabia joined in and ultimately became the leader of the Arab
nations that condemned Egypt. They withdrew the Arab League headquarters from
Cairo, and they tried to organize an embargo politically and economically
against Egypt because Sadat had done this horrendous thing. So that's just
GROSS: You know, the Bush administration pushed for democratic elections in
the Middle East, and in the West Bank and Gaza that brought Hamas to power,
and in Lebanon it brought Hezbollah to power. These are two groups that won't
recognize Israel and these are also two groups that the United States
officially considers to be terrorist groups. Now, you oversaw the Palestinian
elections. You certified them, the Carter Center certified them. And so
after Hamas won the majority of seats in parliament in these elections that
you oversaw and certified, Israel and the United States wouldn't recognize the
government and withdrew funding as punishment to them. What was your
reaction, after certifying the election, saying it was fair, and then having
the United States and Israel not recognize the results?
Pres. CARTER: Well, let me add very quickly that the European Union had a
much larger delegation there than the Carter Center did, and the National
Democratic Institute was there as a partner with us. There was unanimity
among every international observer that the elections were honest, fair and
safe, and accurately represented the will of the Palestinian people who were
permitted by Israel to vote. And so when then then the United States and
Israel decided to punish all of the Palestinian people because they had voted
for Hamas candidates, I came back home to Plains, Georgia, took a shower, got
back on the plane and flew to London, where the International Quartet was
meeting. And they gave me 12 minutes on the program, which was long enough
for me to say that it was unfair to punish the entire Palestinian population
because of the way they had voted.
Mahmoud Abbas, with whom I met immediately after the election, told me then
that because of Israel's policies, that the Palestinians were bankrupt. That
was in January. He said that they couldn't meet their payroll for February
without continued assistance. There was an agreement reached after the Oslo
Compact that Israel would collect customs duties and tariffs for the
Palestinians and turn that money over to the Palestinians. That's Palestinian
money. It amounts to about 55 to $60 million a month. Beginning immediately
after the election, Israel is withholding all of that money from the
Palestinians. So the Palestinians have not been able to pay their policeman,
their firemen, their school teachers, their welfare workers, their nurses,
anybody that's on the Palestinian payroll since that time, and this has
created horrendous suffering among the Palestinian people.
It's been particularly onerous and abusive in Gaza, which is a tiny territory
surrounded by a high wall, because Israel has also cut off food and supplies
going into Gaza and has not permitted the Gaza people to sell the produce that
they produce in hothouses and so forth outside. So the United Nations high
commissioner on food has stated that within Gaza that their degree of
starvation has approached the poorest African countries south of the Sahara
desert. And this high commissioner on food also reported that over half of
the people in Gaza are now subsisting on just one meal per day.
GROSS: You know, in preparing for this interview, I was thinking that the two
biggest things that happened during your presidency, your biggest achievement
and your biggest nightmare, were both in a way the start of something new that
is still with us today. Your biggest achievement the Camp David Peace
Accords, and we're still negotiating Middle East peace. The biggest crisis
that you faced, the Iranian hostage crisis, and you could argue that that was
the beginning of the United States coming to terms with radical Islamism,
which we are still dealing with today. So when you look back at your
presidency, do you see those two things as being like enormous turning points
in the world?
Pres. CARTER: After the shah was overthrown and the Ayatollah Khomeini
became the leader, we quickly established a relationship with the so-called
revolutionary government. We had a very harmonious relationship with Iranian
diplomats in Washington, and obviously we had our diplomats in Iran. They
were the ones that were later taken, but that was after the shah was
overthrown. When we finally concluded the negotiations with Iran and the
hostages were returned, I was expecting that we would soon have basically
normal relationships with Iran again. That has not occurred. And I think
that the upcoming recommendations by Lee Hamilton and James Baker--one of the
basic premises of it will be that the United States ought to open up
diplomatic relations with Iran and also Syria.
GROSS: And it looks like that is what they're recommending, based, you know,
based on advanced leaks or discussions of it and...
Pres. CARTER: It's just a matter of logic, yes.
GROSS: Yeah. We've spent most of this interview talking about the Middle
East. Your new book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," is about the Middle
East. Is the Middle East the most difficult subject to talk about without
getting one side or both sides absolutely furious with you?
Pres. CARTER: Well, I think so. But you have to realize that there are a
lot of other wars that go on that don't get much publicity over here. The
Carter Center has just completed helping to monitor the election in the
Republic of Congo, where four million people have been killed in the last 10
years or so, and that election might be successful. We just completed, since
then, the election in Nicaragua. That was the 67th democratic election in
which I and the Carter Center have been involved. And we earlier did the
one--two of them in Indonesia that brought democracy for the first time to
that fourth largest nation in the world, and by far the largest Muslim
country. And so there are conflicts that go on around the world that are much
more costly in lives than in the Mideast. But I think you're absolutely right
that this is the most contentious issue because the feelings are so intense on
both sides, and they permeate outside the Holy Land into surrounding and even
more distant parts of the world.
GROSS: Well, President Carter, very good to talk with you again. Thank you
very much for talking with us.
Pres. CARTER: I've thoroughly enjoyed it again.
GROSS: Jimmy Carter's new book is called "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid."
Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews Alice Munro's new book of short stories.
This is FRESH AIR.
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Review: Maureen Corrigan recommends Alice Munro's new collection
of short stories, "The View from Castle Rock"
TERRY GROSS, host:
Short story master Alice Munro would be justified in resting on her laurels at
this point in her career. She's won Canada's Governor-General's Literary
Award three times and the National Book Critics Circle Award. But in her new
collection of short stories, called "The View from Castle Rock," Munro veers
off into a fresh direction, exploring family history through fact and fiction.
Book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review.
Ms. MAUREEN CORRIGAN: I'm sure Alice Munro, as usual, was just trying to
weigh her words carefully at the outset of her new short story collection,
"The View from Castle Rock," but her preface does read a bit like a warning
label designed to enlighten by now suspicious literary consumers as to the
ratio of fact to fiction contained within the 12 stories that follow. Munro
says that the stories in the first half of her book were inspired by old
letters and journals concerning her family history in Scotland and Canada.
These stories, Munro claims, are "as truthful as our notion of the past can
The more contemporary first-person stories in the second half of the book are
not memoirs, exactly, although, she says, "they pay more attention to the
truth of a life than fiction usually does, but not enough to swear on." I'm
still confused about what generic label to affix to these stories, but I'm not
at all confused about what to call them: haunting, wise, spare, deeply sad,
just plain magnificent.
To the extent that many of Munro's stories here are autobiographical, she
reminds jaded readers that oftentimes the most daring secrets an
autobiographical piece of writing can reveal are not the over-the-top
confessions about sex, drugs, and recovery, but rather those small but
devastating betrayals of thought and affection known only to the person who
harbors them. For instance, towards the end of the collection, there's a
story called "The Ticket," in which Munro recalls herself as a clever restless
young woman. This Munro is eager to exit the life of manual labor that her
family, who supported themselves by fox farming and factory work, had trimmed
themselves to. Munro's fiance in the story is a young man from more
comfortable circumstances. She has this epiphany to offer about her family's
(reading) "I knew what they thought about Michael. They thought he was too
brightly smiling, too nicely shaved and shiny-shoed, too well brought up and
heartily polite. They had a habit of poor people, perhaps especially of poor
people burdened with more intelligence than their status gets them credit for,
a habit or a necessity of turning their betters, or those whom they suspect of
thinking themselves their betters, into such caricatures."
Those hesitations you hear in Munro's sentences, that relentless casting about
for just the right word, would be annoying if she were a lesser writer who
never quite nailed it. But she does, time and again. In a compact phrase
that speaks volumes, Munro, through her fictional alter-ego, dubs her father
"a man of kind evasions," and that's in a story called "Home," in which she's
describing his final illness. Munro doesn't shy away from issuing equally
chilly judgments about herself, or to be more precise, about the first-person
narrators who stand in for herself in these stories. In the same story,
"Home," her narrator says she "narrowly missed becoming one of those rural
misfits, captives, nearly useless, celibate, rusting." She adds, "I can see
myself as a middle-aged daughter who did her duty, stayed at home, thinking
that someday her chance would come, until she woke up and knew it wouldn't."
This is stern stuff, but in light of the family history that Munro partly
pieces together and partly invents in the first half of this collection, you
can see that strain of flint running through her Scottish ancestors. These
were people who farmed in the Ettrick Valley of Scotland, a land described in
an 18th century source Munro quotes as "having no advantages." Munro brings
that ancestral world, or a drizzly grey facsimile of it, to life. It's a
place where Presbyterian elders roamed the landscape on the lookout for
fornicators; and those with the strength to move pack up their damp bedding,
lock the farmhouse door, and book passage on boats to North America.
As Munro makes clear, she's descended from people who are always suspicious of
words because they didn't have much use for them in the course of a workday.
"When I was growing up," her narrator says in the penultimate story called
"What Do You Want to Know For?" "an appetite for impractical knowledge of any
kind did not get encouragement. It was necessary to learn to read but not in
the least desirable to end up with your nose in a book."
Fortunately, Munro is a genetic maverick whose taciturn inheritance shows in
her choice of the short story as her signature form and in the scrupulously
chosen words that make those stories breathe.
GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "The View from Castle Rock," the new short story collection by Alice
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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