I have what may be an unhealthy and prurient fascination for the controversial. If something is controversial in some way, I need to check it out for myself and form my own opinion. Generally, my final opinion is that I wasted my time looking into something that was much ado about nothing; but that doesn't seem to stop from investigating the next time. So, of course, when Jimmy Carter's book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid started generating controversy over the choice of title; I had to read it. Having read the book, I really didn't find much fodder for controversy. Certainly, the term apartheid is racially-loaded but is that controversial in and of itself or is using such terms gratuitously the problem? I've always been taught it was the later and I don't feel that Carter is guilty of that faux pas. One of Carter's themes in this book is that the current state of affairs regarding the Palestinians in Israel is unstable and the opposite of peaceful. One of the anecdotes Carter shares in the book is a 1973 conversation with Yitzhak Rabin, a then important Israeli general who became Prime Minister of Israel from 1974-1977 and 1992-1995. Rabin prophetically commented that he didn't feel the apartheid system in South Africa was stable. (p.30) This instability is exactly the message Carter is trying to send with this book and tying in the quote from Rabin provides association with a messenger well respected by his target audience. Although history will show whether he is successful, it is a masterful way to present an argument.
Although I was disappointed in my search for controversy, I was not at all disappointed by the book as a whole. Palestine Peace Not Apartheid is one of those rare non-fiction books that manage to be extremely readable while at the same time greatly increasing your understanding of the topic. President Carter made his first visit to Israel as governor of Georgia in 1973 and has been personally involved in the Israeli peace process ever since. In this book, he shares his experiences and observations relating to the Israeli peace process and the Palestinian issue, as well as sharing a suggested solution. Since Carter knows many of the key figures personally and was involved in many of the significant events, this book provides a first-hand view of history. Carter prefaces his book with a time line of key events from Abraham's journey to Canaan up to the present and includes cultural and historical background through out the remainder of the text. A reader with little or no background knowledge or understanding of Israeli/Palestinian history and conflict can pick up what they need to know as they read, but readers with stronger backgrounds will not find themselves bogged down in long sections of nothing but review of basic information. This is an excellent book and I would recommend it to anyone interested in any facet of Israeli or Palestinian history and current affairs.
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