By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 12, 2007
Fourteen members of an advisory board to the Carter Center in Atlanta resigned yesterday in protest over former president Jimmy Carter's best-selling new book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying that they could "no longer in good conscience continue to serve."
The resignations were the latest episode in an escalating controversy over the book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," published in late November. It has been criticized within the American Jewish community as tilting sharply toward the Palestinians. Scholars have found fault with his fact-checking on small and large points. At least one former Mideast negotiator expressed outrage over what he called "misrepresented" history.
The deciding factor for board member Steve Berman, he said yesterday, was a passage on Page 213 that he quoted easily from memory: It was imperative, Carter wrote, that Arabs and Palestinians "make it clear that they will end the suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism when international laws and the ultimate goals" of an internationally proposed peace accord "are accepted by Israel."
"What does that say to you?" asked Berman, a commercial real estate developer in Atlanta. "It says they can stop when they get their state. He's condoning terror as a means of obtaining the objective of a Palestinian state."
Carter has been critical of the Bush administration's policies in the Middle East and has said he wanted the book to be provocative. "If it provokes debate and assessment and disputes and arguments and maybe some action in the Middle East to get the peace process, which is now completely absent or dormant, rejuvenated, and brings peace ultimately to Israel, that's what I want," he said last month on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Carter declined to comment about yesterday's resignations. In a statement issued by the center's press office, Executive Director John Hardman expressed gratitude to the members for serving and emphasized that those on the board are "not engaged in implementing work of the Center and are not a governing board."
The appointed Board of Councilors is not the Carter Center's policy-making body, but a group of 200 mostly local Atlanta leaders who help promote the institution as an international leader in human rights and health issues. But the departure of 14 of its members, who called several news organizations to make their resignations public, served to keep the controversy alive. Word of the resignations first appeared yesterday on the Web site of the Wall Street Journal.
Several of the resigning members served in the Carter administration, including William B. Schwartz Jr., former U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas, and S. Stephen Selig III, a real estate developer who was a White House aide and host committee chairman of the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta.
Berman said he began the resignation campaign after reading the book last month, and he emerged yesterday as its spokesman. He answered one question before it was asked. "It's fair to say," he said in an interview, that "most" of the people he contacted about the book are Jewish, as were the signatories of the resignation letter. "But that wasn't a subject that came up in our discussion."
He described himself as a great admirer of Carter and as a liberal Jew who is worried about the direction that Israel is taking in resolving its conflict with the Palestinians.
But he and the others who signed yesterday's letter say Carter went too far. "The thing that really disenchanted all of us, it broke our hearts, was to see the president abandon his traditional position of mediator, promoter of peace and honest broker [to become] an advocate for one side of the conflict." It wouldn't even have mattered, Berman said, "if he had promoted the Israeli side."
Although Carter's book widely apportions blame for decades of failure since the historic peace agreement that he negotiated between Egypt and Israel, it concludes that "Israel's continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land."
In an opinion piece published yesterday in the New York Times, before the resignations were made public, Clinton administration Mideast envoy Dennis Ross said that maps Carter used in his book "rewrite history and misrepresent" peace proposals advanced by Bill Clinton in the final days of his presidency. Carter, Ross wrote, mislabeled Clinton and Israeli versions of maps of proposed borders used during the negotiations to inaccurately imply that the Palestinians had been more accommodating than they were. Ross now has the title of counselor at the Washington Institute for Mideast Policy.