Twelve days into Israel’s punishing war on Gaza, the Washington Post editorial section finally has published an op-ed suggesting that there might be two sides to the dispute, an article by former President Jimmy Carter who presented both Israeli and Palestinian concerns and noted Israel’s failure to live up to the goals of last year’s truce agreement.

Before Carter’s article, the Post’s editorial pages had been a bastion for pro-Israel op-eds, sometimes two a day, including columns by neoconservative ideologue Charles Krauthammer and Republican speechwriter Michael Gerson who saw no moral ambiguity in Israel’s assault that has now killed some 700 Palestinians, including many children and other civilians.

“Some geopolitical conflicts are morally complicated,” Krauthammer wrote on Jan. 2. “The Israel-Gaza war is not. It possesses a moral clarity not only rare but excruciating.”

Gerson added, “There is no question – none – that Israel’s attack on Hamas in Gaza is justified.”

That same black-and-white view was endorsed by the Post’s always-superficial columnist Richard Cohen, who nearly a year ago visited the southern Israeli town of Sderot, which has been plagued by small Hamas rockets fired from Gaza. After spending time in a Sderot bomb shelter – yet without experiencing the daily suffering in Gaza – Cohen also concluded that Israel was entirely in the right.

“It took no genius to see the imminence of war,” Cohen wrote in a Jan. 6 column entitled “A Conflict Hamas Caused.” “It takes real stupidity to blame it on Israel.”

Then, with unintended irony – since with the Post’s editorial section there’s no other kind – Cohen added, “what has been ignored is the series of events that led to this war.”

Indeed. Any reader who based his or her knowledge of what was happening in Gaza strictly on the Post’s editorial page and op-ed section would be thoroughly ignorant of the real circumstances that set the stage for the conflict.

The latest atrocities in that war have included the grisly discovery of at least 15 bodies and several emaciated children in Gaza after the Israeli military had prevented ambulances from reaching the site for four days. Four starving children were found lying next to their dead mothers, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. [Washington Post, Jan. 8, 2009]

Carter’s Viewpoint

Yet, while much of the world has recoiled in horror at the ferocity of the Israeli attacks, the Post’s neocon-dominated opinion section has only heaped blame on Hamas – at least until the publication of former President Carter’s op-ed, which also was notable for its presentation of actual information.

In a column entitled “An Unnecessary War,” Carter describes the tragic misjudgments on both sides – as well as their reasonable grievances. “I know from personal involvement that the devastating invasion of Gaza by Israel could easily have been avoided,” Carter wrote.

“After visiting Sderot last April and seeing the serious psychological damage caused by the rockets that had fallen in that area, my wife, Rosalynn, and I declared their launching from Gaza to be inexcusable and an act of terrorism.

“Although casualties were rare (three deaths in seven years), the town was traumatized by the unpredictable explosions. About 3,000 residents had moved to other communities, and the streets, playgrounds and shopping centers were almost empty. …

“Knowing that we would soon be seeing Hamas leaders from Gaza and also in Damascus, we promised to assess prospects for a cease-fire.

“From Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who was negotiating between the Israelis and Hamas, we learned that there was a fundamental difference between the two sides. Hamas wanted a comprehensive cease-fire in both the West Bank and Gaza, and the Israelis refused to discuss anything other than Gaza.

“We knew that the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza were being starved, as the U.N. special rapporteur-on-the-right-to-food had found that acute malnutrition in Gaza was on the same scale as in the poorest nations in the southern Sahara, with more than half of all Palestinian families eating only one meal a day.

“Palestinian leaders from Gaza were noncommittal on all issues, claiming that rockets were the only way to respond to their imprisonment and to dramatize their humanitarian plight. The top Hamas leaders in Damascus, however, agreed to consider a cease-fire in Gaza only, provided Israel would not attack Gaza and would permit normal humanitarian supplies to be delivered to Palestinian citizens.

“After extended discussions with those from Gaza, these Hamas leaders also agreed to accept any peace agreement that might be negotiated between the Israelis and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who also heads the PLO, provided it was approved by a majority vote of Palestinians in a referendum or by an elected unity government.

“Since we were only observers, and not negotiators, we relayed this information to the Egyptians, and they pursued the cease-fire proposal.”

A Cease-fire

Carter continued: “After about a month, the Egyptians and Hamas informed us that all military action by both sides and all rocket firing would stop on June 19, for a period of six months, and that humanitarian supplies would be restored to the normal level that had existed before Israel's withdrawal in 2005 (about 700 trucks daily).

“We were unable to confirm this in Jerusalem because of Israel's unwillingness to admit to any negotiations with Hamas, but rocket firing was soon stopped and there was an increase in supplies of food, water, medicine and fuel.

“Yet the increase was to an average of about 20 percent of normal levels. And this fragile truce was partially broken on Nov. 4, when Israel launched an attack in Gaza to destroy a defensive tunnel being dug by Hamas inside the wall that encloses Gaza.

“On another visit to Syria in mid-December, I made an effort for the impending six-month deadline to be extended. It was clear that the preeminent issue was opening the crossings into Gaza.

“Representatives from the Carter Center visited Jerusalem, met with Israeli officials and asked if this was possible in exchange for a cessation of rocket fire. The Israeli government informally proposed that 15 percent of normal supplies might be possible if Hamas first stopped all rocket fire for 48 hours. This was unacceptable to Hamas, and hostilities erupted.”

Carter also expressed concern about the Israeli military destroying many civilian targets in the 12 days of bombings – including “17 mosques, the American International School, many private homes and much of the basic infrastructure of the small but heavily populated area [including] the systems that provide water, electricity and sanitation.”

While Carter’s column fit well within the mainstream international opinion about the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, it represented an anomaly in the opinion circles of Washington, appearing almost like a fringe viewpoint after a steady diet of neocon propaganda, especially in the Post editorial section which helps set the parameters of debate within the U.S. capital.

It remains unclear, however, whether the Post’s decision to publish a discordant op-ed by Carter marks a change of heart among editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt and other neocons in the Post’s senior-editorial ranks or whether it represents only a token gesture to a former President.

Still, this one Post op-ed that broke from the predictable neocon lockstep – especially an article that recognized the humanity of both Palestinians and Israelis – was a startling moment.

[For more on Carter’s peace role in the Middle East, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Israel’s Looming Catastrophe.”]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.

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