Growing up in the late sixties and early seventies in Egypt I learned a good deal about governments refusing to talk or listen to their enemies. During that period, the Arab countries had several declared preconditions to enter any negotiations with Israel. The simple reason was that the mere act of negotiations would lend legitimacy to the enemy. Does it sound familiar?
For almost thirty years after the creation of Israel in 1948, the Arab countries refused to recognize Israel. The sixty-seven war broke, Egypt along with Syria and Jordan lost large parcels of land, and Israel won. Therefore, the three Arab countries lost a war to none existing country.
It took seven more years, and another war in 1973 before the new president of Egypt had the courage and initiative to land in Tel Aviv and propose to negotiate with his enemies without preconditions. This visit paved the way for signing the Camp David agreement, which is the single lasting peace treaty in sixty years of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Sadat took the initiatives because he understood that refusing to talk doesn’t defeat the enemy, or bring peace to his countrymen. Negotiations doesn’t hand the enemy victory either. He knew that conditions are set on the negotiating table and through the humanization process that comes from accepting your enemy as a partner.
However, achieving peace through negotiations would have been impossible without a mediator that understands the grievances that comes from years of dehumanizing your enemy, a partner that have the courage and convection to pressure the two negotiating sides to see the future instead of the past. A leader that has the vision to recognize that underneath the angry rhetoric all people aspire to the same dreams and hopes, that peace is the most effective road to moderation and stability.
The peace agreement between Egypt and Israel became possible only because of Carter’s leadership.
The current American government on the other hand refuses to talk to North Korea, Iran, Syria, Hezb-Allah, and Hamas among others.
The results are astounding; North Korea produced and tested successfully their first Nuclear weapon. Iran influence in the Middle East has never been greater while they are making progress acquiring nuclear technology. Hezb-Allah dominates the Lebanese parliament and enjoys great popularity in the Arab world across the Sunni and Shiite divide. Hamas transcended from obscurity to power through one of the most legitimate elections in the Arab world after America refused to work with the head of the moderate secular Palestinian government that existed prior to the election.
While America refuse to talk to governments and organizations it, labels as terrorists the world moves on. The moderates become isolated, the radicals add fuel to the fires showing case how moderation never brought justice or land, and bloody conflicts rage.
The price of instability in the Middle East alone is a 40% premium in the price of each barrel of oil we consume here in America. The human impact of the conflict translates into more Israeli, Palestinian, Iraqi, and Afghan children killed or starved every day, and hundreds of angry radicals willing to create mountains of collateral damage in New York, London, and Madrid.
Carter’s recent visit to the Middle East draws on his legacy of peace and personal faith, and his understanding of the dismal results of the current policy, while he is addressing America’s vital interests in the Middle East.
The former president, at the age of eighty three instead of resting on his undisputed accomplishments in bringing peace, advocating democracy and freedom, helping the needy in the four corners of the globe. He is willing to expose himself to the vicious attack machines from all sides and take the brunt of rejection and criticism because he simply believes in the power and the possibility of peace. After all, to the contrary to the experts and pundits lecturing him, he is the only one with a record of achieving peace.
I think Carter once again taught the world that there are still people that have the courage to stand for common sense and decency regardless of the price. Carter might not be the most popular citizen today but neither were Washington, Lincoln, and Martin Luther King in their days.