Ellen Jenny Ravndal
Australian National University
Palestine lies at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict, yet for a long time the United States and other would-be peacemakers refused to include the Palestinians in negotiations. This well-written and meticulously researched book provides new insights into one lost opportunity for peace as it charts the attempt of US President Jimmy Carter to negotiate a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. Carter’s innovative and ambitious strategy broke with previous US policy in recognising that a settlement must include the Palestinians, not just as a humanitarian or security issue (refugees or terrorists), but as an independent party with legitimate political claims. Held up against the standard of comprehensive regional peace, the outcome of Carter’s diplomacy – the bilateral Camp David Accords and the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty – was disappointing. Jensehaugen’s analysis highlights how self-imposed restrictions prevented Carter from following through on his initial plans. First, although the Carter administration wanted to include the Palestinians in negotiations, it ultimately remained unwilling to break with the existing US policy of refusing to talk to the PLO. Secondly, the strength of domestic US support for Israel prevented Carter from using US leverage to pressure Israel to compromise. Whenever Israel refused to budge, the American government would instead pressure the Arab states for concessions, because this was easier. Thus, although Carter entered office with ambitious and innovative ideas, his diplomacy soon became trapped in familiar patterns. Overall, Jensehaugen’s reassessment of Carter’s diplomacy is an important contribution to our understanding of the dynamics of the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict and the background to American policies towards the region.