For a Season of Peace, Call on a Man of Peace : Middle East: Jimmy Carter brought Israel and Egypt together at Camp David. Why not use him to invigorate the peace process?

<i> The Rev. Jesse Jackson writes a syndicated column in Washington</i>

There is no peace in the land of Jerusalem this Christmas. Two years after the Palestinians first rose up against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, the intifada continues and the brutal war of attrition wears on--taking young lives, ravaging communities, wounding spirits on both sides. In the absence of land-for-peace, there is no peace in the land.

Israelis and Palestinians are locked in a death grip. More than 700 Palestinians have lost their lives during the first two years of the intifada, and more than 50 Israelis have been killed, most of them in the last year. On average, one person--an Israeli or a Palestinian--is killed every day, someone’s son, daughter, father, mother, brother, or sister. That means one family tragedy every day in the occupied territories.

At least 35,000 Palestinians have been arrested since the intifada began, according to Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and more than 37,000 Palestinians have been wounded by soldiers carrying out a policy of “force, might and beatings.”

Schools on the West Bank, which were closed for the first year and a half of the rebellion, have been closed down again by the Israeli government. There are no movies to see because there are no theaters left open in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. There are also no parks, no swimming pools, no playgrounds, no after-school programs (even if schools were open). Palestinian children and youth, all born since 1967, when Israel took the West Bank from Jordan, are learning only the cruel dynamics of repression and rebellion.


The burden of this occupation is far too great for Israelis as well as Palestinians. The costs of military occupation are staggering, both in material and moral terms. Young men barely out of high school are being sent to police the uprising, leading hundreds of them, in a group called Yesh Gvul (“there is a limit”), to refuse service. Some who go are wounded or lose their lives. The activists of the Israeli organization Peace Now point out that their country is putting its precious democratic soul at risk by subjecting another people to military oppression.

There has to be a way out of this death grip, and America can play a crucial role. President Bush can move to end the bloodshed and reinvigorate the peace process by taking this bold action: He should appoint former President Jimmy Carter as special ambassador to the Middle East.

Before anyone calls this idea crazy, consider two points. Carter has been mediating conflicts all over the world in the last few years, monitoring elections in Panama, negotiating peace between the Sandinistas and the Miskito Indians, and working successfully to free political prisoners in Somalia and prisoners of war in Ethiopia. The Bush Administration has in every case accepted, and often encouraged, these private diplomatic initiatives.

The other thing to remember is that Carter brought Egypt and Israel, ancient sworn enemies, to the table to make peace at Camp David. Egypt and Israel had killed many more of each other’s citizens than have Israel and the Palestinians, and yet Carter, through careful listening and aggressive negotiation, was able to fashion a lasting peace between the nations on the basis of their own interests.


It is time for Carter to get the chance to finish the job he began at Camp David. The accords signed there between Prime Minister Menachem Begin and President Anwar Sadat called for resolution of the problem of Palestinian rights as the next stage of the Mideast peace process. These provisions, so integral to the spirit of Camp David, demand action. The parties to the crisis are afraid to release their death grip, but we can pry them loose. Otherwise they will die a slow death.

It is important that the peoples of the region do not adjust their thinking and their lives to the idea of permanent violence and hatred. Such an adjustment in attitude can lead only to further death and regional disaster.

As the nation that sends billions of dollars a year to countries in the region, we also must not accept the inevitability of cruelty and hatred between Israelis and Palestinians.

President Bush could give the peoples of the Middle East a wonderful Christmas present by calling on the extraordinary diplomatic talents of Jimmy Carter and sending him to the troubled land of Jerusalem, where two brilliant and productive peoples must find an existence beyond war. Let’s give peace a chance.