Unsurprisingly, the notoriously hawkish-on-Israel Abrams ignores Carter’s substantive points about the suffocating nature of Israel’s forty years-long military occupation and illegal settlement enterprise in order to attack Carter as anti-Israel. Abrams insists that “while [Carter] finds ‘a growing sense of concern and despair’ among “increasingly desperate” Palestinians, polls do not sustain this view”:
The most recent survey by the leading Palestinian pollster, Khalil Shikaki (done in August, the same month Carter visited), shows “considerable improvement in public perception of personal and family security and safety in the West Bank and a noticeable decrease in public perception of the existence of corruption in [Palestinian Authority] institutions.” This does not sound like despair. In fact, positive views of personal and family safety and security in the West Bank stood at 25 percent four years ago, 35 percent two years ago and 43 percent a year ago, and they have risen to 58 percent in the past year, Shikaki reports. There are other ways to measure quality of life in the West Bank: The International Monetary Fund recently stated that “macroeconomic conditions in the West Bank have improved” largely because “Israeli restrictions on internal trade and the passage of people have been relaxed significantly.”
It’s true, economic growth in the West Bank has resulted from Israel slightly loosening its restrictions on Palestinians’ lives, much as a man’s breathing improves as you remove your foot from his neck. But Abrams’ cherry-picking these statistics does not change the fact — also noted in Shikaki’s report but neglected by Abrams — that Palestinians are still deeply pessimistic about the prospects for ending the Israeli occupation. It’s not hard to understand why: In addition to having to physically bear the consequences of the occupation, the Palestinians have, like everyone else in the world, observed over the past months as the Israeli government has strenuously argued for its “right” to continue to build settlements, in blatant defiance of both international law and Israel’s own commitments under the 2003 road map.
Abrams attempt to draw attention away from the occupation and settlements is in keeping with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s proposed “economic peace,” which focuses on Palestinian economic growth at the expense of Palestinian national claims. American Israel hawks have been hard at work peddling this line, but as Palestinian businessman Zahi Khouri writes in today’s New York Times, “Palestinian economic growth is not a substitute for serious and meaningful negotiations aimed at ending Israel’s occupation and establishing an independent, viable and sovereign Palestinian state.”
I am all for economic improvement, but not as a substitute for peace — nor its manipulation by Mr. Netanyahu to manage and normalize the occupation while trying to sell Israel’s benevolence to the rest of the globe. Self-determination and statehood alone hold the keys to unlocking Palestine’s economic potential. [...]
The foundation upon which our economy rests is dangerously rotten. Israeli spreading settlements, checkpoints and roadblocks that fragment the occupied Palestinian territory; Israel’s illegal Wall and its permit system that severely restrict where Palestinians can live and work; and Israel’s continuing siege of Gaza all not only threaten our nascent economic recovery, but threaten the very possibility of a two-state solution. [...]
A settlement freeze is a crucial first step to salvaging the two-state solution, as well as Israel’s credentials as a genuine partner for peace. Seven-percent growth and an illusionary calm are no substitute for this.
In a sane world, a convicted crook and Likud mouthpiece like Abrams really wouldn’t be considered a go-to guy to respond to a Nobel Peace Prize winning humanitarian like Jimmy Carter. One of the reasons why the Bush administration’s claims about supporting democracy and human rights were largely regarded as a joke around the world was that it put someone like Abrams in charge of democracy and human rights. It’s impossible to calculate all the ways in which the presidency of George W. Bush hurt America, but helping to rehabilitate the public career of this admitted liar is fairly high on the list.