Former President Carter Addresses The Times

To The New York Times, March 28, 1990 Since returning recently from an extensive trip through the Middle East, I have been disturbed by highly biased attacks on both me and President Bush in columns by A.M. Rosenthal (“Silence Is a Lie,” March 22) and William Safire (“Bush Versus Israel,” March 26).

Mr. Rosenthal insinuated (or stated) that I was a liar by commenting publicly on human rights abuses by the Israeli authorities in the West Bank and Gaza while not simultaneously making similar public criticisms of Syria. Mr. Safire wrote that President Bush, Secretary of State James A. Baker, III and their top associates are anti-Israel, have shut their eyes to Arab terrorism, are acting to prevent Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union, attempt to cut aid to Israel, want to impose a PLO state in the occupied territories, support a divided Jerusalem and are contributing to a possible pogrom or “death process” for Jews being retained in the Soviet Union.

In my travels I invariably address known human rights abuse in every country, almost always directly with the nation’s leader. I did this forcefully in both Egypt and Syria before arriving in Israel. The particular problem that aroused my comments in Jerusalem, both to top government leaders and to the press, was a recent Israeli policy of deporting to Jordan the Palestinian mothers and children from the West Bank and Gaza who cannot prove birth or residence in the area since it was occupied by Israeli military forces in 1967. There were 251 documented cases of this type. I gave the names of those about whom I knew personally to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and later discussed this issue with Shmuel Goren, who is in charge of civilian administration in the occupied territories.

No one denied the accuracy of these reports. Mr. Goren informed me that they were changing this policy. At my urging, he stated further that the mothers and children already deported would be permitted to return home and rejoin their husbands and fathers. Within two hours I announced this positive decision at a press conference in the Tel Aviv airport.

What would you have me do differently? What would your columnists’ policy be if an Arab leader was taking Jewish mothers and children away from their homes and husbands, and forcibly deporting them to a foreign country? Palestinians are human also, and their rights must be defended.

I am not authorized to speak for President Bush, but I was given a thorough briefing on his policies before my trip and later met with him, the secretary of state and the national security adviser after my return to give them a personal report. None of Mr. Safire’s accusations are true. The President’s budget proposal continues the allocation of approximately $10 million daily in aid to Israel, and he certainly does not support Arab terrorism, imposing a PLO state on the West Bank and Jerusalem or obstructing Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union. Additionally, Mr. Safire stated that George Bush is the only president who threatened to cut aid to Israel and affirms a statement by Yasser Arafat that this is the first administration that speaks of the end of the Israeli occupation.

As a matter of historical record, President Richard M. Nixon used full economic persuasion to halt the Israeli military advance toward Cairo in 1973. Also, I notified Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1978 that unless the Israeli invasion of Lebanon was stopped, I would notify Congress that US weapons were being used for offensive purposes, which would have terminated all military assistance from our country.

The invasion stopped, and the forces were soon withdrawn. Furthermore, I worked assiduously to bring about an end of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. In fact, this requirement is written into the Camp David accords, both in an affirmation of compliance with United Nations Resolution 242 and the words “the Israeli military government and its civilian administration will be withdrawn as soon as a self-governing authority has been freely elected by the inhabitants of those areas.” It is well known that this agreement was signed by Prime Minister Begin and later ratified by the Israeli Knesset.

I know for a fact that President Bush and Secretary of State Baker are fully committed to bring a just peace to the Middle East and to help guarantee the security of Israel. Also, no one can deny my friendship and support for a peaceful and secure Israel or the persistent and successful effort I made to seek the freedom of Soviet Jews. The Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty and the 51,000 “refuseniks” who gained their freedom in 1979 alone are at least partial proof of the preceding statement. I did not seek these goals to gain the approval of Times columnists, but out of deep conviction that I was defending the interests of my country and upholding its basic principles.

At the same time, it is incumbent on you and other Americans to realize that United States leaders must be objective and fair as we work for peace and the enhancement of human rights, even if, on occasion, such actions might displease a friendly nation like Israel or its impassioned supporters in this country.

Jimmy Carter, Atlanta, GA


(Following are texts of remarks by Senators Edward (Ted) Kennedy (D-MA) and Alan Simpson (R-WY) in their daily feature ‘face-off,” broadcast by National Public Radio stations on March 23, 1990.)

Senator Kennedy: This is Ted Kennedy. Loose lips sink ships. In this case, loose lips at the highest level of the Bush administration sank the government of Israel. In a moment, Senator Al Simpson and I will face off.

Al, we’ll probably have to wait for Secretary of State Jim Baker’s memoirs to find out what really happened with President Bush’s off-hand remark about East Jerusalem that led to the collapse of the Israeli government.

The remark came at a press conference after the California summit earlier this month with the Prime Minister of Japan. Asked about Israel’s controversial settlement policy, President Bush said he opposed new settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Past US statements have consistently referred to settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, Al-not East Jerusalem. President Bush insists he meant to say East Jerusalem. But by doing so, he undermined Secretary Baker’s peace plan and caused a crisis in Israel. For a president who prides himself on foreign policy, Al, it seems like an unfortunate gaffe.

Senator Simpson: The “unfortunate gaffe” is all yours today, Ted. Surely you don’t mean to blame President Bush for the collapse of a plenty shaky government in Israel. That’s plain nuts.

The Israeli government was dissolved when its Likud prime minister dismissed Labor’s Shimon Peres—the rest of the labor ministers then resigned. Shamir lost the vote of confidence and now Peres will attempt to form a government. Don’t blame Bush.

Coalition governments in Israel have always been unstable—that’s just a fact of life. The election proposal for the occupied territories—and determining who could participate in the voting—has been deeply divisive there. Bush and Baker have surely been key players in that proposal—but there’s no crisis there. It’s a democracy at work.

It has been our long held policy to favor an undivided Jerusalem open to all—surely you knew that, Ted. It’s nothing new at all.


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