WASHINGTON — JIMMY CARTER, who moved the Mideast peace process dramatically forward at Camp David when he was president, now is urging the United States to take "more forceful action for peace" to bring the Israelis and Palestinians together. Specifically, he argues that one "persuasive factor" in dealing with Ariel Sharon is "approximately $10 million daily in American aid to Israel."
Using the cutting off of US aid as leverage in dealing with Israel? That idea isn't likely to get very far in the US political world, where the Jewish community is so influential. Indeed, Colin Powell was seen on TV only a few hours after the Carter words had appeared in a New York Times article, making it clear that this was a course of action that this administration wasn't going to pursue.
So once again Jimmy Carter has jumped into the Mideast fray. Last August, he caused a stir by criticizing President Bush for his hands-off relations with the Mideast at the time and, in particular, his failure to demand the removal of Israeli settlements on the West Bank.
Mr. Carter sees himself as "even handed" in his view of how a fair solution in the Mideast should be reached. He says he backs UN resolutions whose basic premises are withdrawal of Israelis from Palestinian lands in exchange for full acceptance of Israel and Israel's right to live in peace.
Carter sees himself as being neutral in the Mideast controversy. And his peace achievement at Camp David 24 years ago has given him credentials as an effective peace negotiator. But his continual call for the Israelis to end their settlements on the West Bank (or even pull back from all or some of their settlements) doesn't win him any popularity in Israel or in the American Jewish community.
Carter's brilliant "bicycle riding" diplomacy, which brought Israel's Menachem Begin and Egypt's Anwar Sadat into a historic agreement at Camp David, did find approval in both Israel and Palestinian camps. But he was soon to sit down with journalists in a session where his words or alleged words made many Jews furious.
I was at a small dinner party with President Carter and his wife, Rosalynn. So were about a half dozen other journalists and their wives. We were told this would be an opportunity to hear Carter's thoughts on any subject we might like to bring up. There was only one restriction: It was to be "off the record." No note-taking, no tapes.
So I was astonished the next morning to find a long, front-page story in The New York Times that said, "In likening the Palestinian issue to the civil rights movement here in the United States, the president depicted it as a highly emotional issue and a matter of rights."
The article was filled with quotes, breaking the Carter-imposed ground rule for the use of his words. But further, this was not the recollection that others in the group had of what Carter had said. (I did some checking around afterward.)
Earl Foell, then the Monitor's editor, was also a guest that evening. He wrote the lead article in the Monitor the next morning, in which he describes "the flap over President Carter's alleged likening of the Palestinian struggle to the American civil rights movement" in this way:
"He was misquoted. Contrary to early reports in the press, what Mr. Carter said in effect was that the frustration (of the Palestinians) was not unlike the frustration felt by blacks in the US in the 1950s. He said this in the context of the urgency of solving the Palestinian question if there is to be peace in the Middle East. Here was a case where the press created gratuitous diplomatic difficulty because of a lack of accuracy (and, it might be added, a violation of presidential confidence.)"
The Jimmy Carter I know is a very fair man. In his recent Times column, he writes that "the abhorrent suicide bombings are also counterproductive in that they discredit the Palestinian cause, help perpetuate the military occupation and destruction of villages, and obstruct efforts toward peace and justice."
I'd like to see Carter become an active participant in the efforts to calm down those troubled waters. At the very least, the president should be listening to this wise man.