Bearing the gift of peace

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The Independent Online
Christmas is the season of peace - to a certain, limited extent. In lands where Christian traditions are still vivid - especially in their contrasts - Christmas is a good time for ceasefires. Jimmy Carter senses this and has timed his visit to Bosnia accordingly. He seems likely to get some kind of ceasefire which might with luck outlast the Christmas season.

If he sounds a bit starry-eyed about Serbs - even referring to "the Serbian commitment to peace" - this is probably a salutary counterweight to the general and still prevalent American tendency to see Serbs as the sole villains in former Yugoslavia, whereas in reality competition in the villainy business is as intense in that region as elsewhere, Christmas or no Christmas.

The White House is annoyed by the Carter initiative but finds it expedient to muffle its annoyance, and even to make some strangled noises suggestive of something faintly resembling approval. "We're sceptical about Karadzic's motives in inviting President Carter," said the White House spokesperson Dee Dee Myers, "but if President Carter can succeed in helping create an atmosphere for negotiations, that would be helpful."

That White House formula seems to suggest that Mr Carter is making a significant impact on his native America, whatever his impact among the Southern Slavs may be. This aspect of his mission should be welcome to Western Europeans. It should

do something to lessen the influence over policy-making of those American hawks - both Republicans and Democrats - who crave a proxy war with Serbia, whether with Muslim or European ground troops. We should therefore wish Jimmy Carter's mission well, a little more enthusiastically than the White House at present does.

In America, Jimmy Carter was once regarded as a peacemaker of almost magical powers. This was in the autumn of 1978, half-way through Carter's presidential term, when the Camp David negotiations involving Carter, Begin and Sadat produced the formula thatledto the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. That deal remains by far the most substantial peace-making achievement that the modern Middle East has known. Yet the peace that Jimmy Carter helped to achieve in 1979 was radically different from the peace he had set out to achieve.

All peace processes are full of ironies. Contemplation of the ironies which accompanied the most successful peace process ever has to be instructive. It also happens to be relevant, with a particularly pungent irony, to the present Anglo-Irish peace process.

The negotiations between the Dublin and London governments, based on the Downing Street Declaration of 15 December 1993, aim at creating "a Framework for Peace". The terminology derives from Camp David, which did produce a Framework for Peace.

The negotiators at Camp David intended their Framework for Peace as something into which other parties, in addition to the signatories, could eventually enter. They had in mind the Arab states (other than Egypt) and the PLO. Similarly Dublin and London intend, or at least hope, that the SDLP, the two Unionist parties, and possibly Sinn Fein, will be prepared to work together within the Anglo-Irish Framework for Peace.

There is certainly a functional similarity there. But there were in fact two frameworks agreed at Camp David. One was the Framework for Peace for the whole Middle East. This was a complete failure: nobody but the original signatories ever agreed to it. The other was a framework for a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. That was the business end of Camp David, and the extent of the success story. And it was not the success that Jimmy Carter originally intended; very far from it.

When Carter set out "to solve the Middle East", at the beginning of his presidency, he (like most Western commentators at the time) was in the grip of the grandiose ideas diffused by the Brookings Institution. By the late Seventies, Kissinger's "step by step" personal approach to the problems of the region had become politically incorrect. Nothing would do but a comprehensive settlement involving all the Arab states, Israel and the PLO. President Carter saw Syria's President Assad, not Sadat, as the keyto this, since Assad at that time had a strong influence over the PLO.

By not the least remarkable of the ironies of peace-making, it was Carter's wooing of Assad, in quest of a comprehensive peace, that led to the separate peace between Egypt and Israel, presided over by Carter and comprehensively denounced by the whole Arab world outside of Egypt.

Sadat and Assad were rivals for the leadership of the Arab world, the sort of elementary factor that the Brookings comprehensivists consistently overlooked. Sadat saw Assad's rapprochement with the United States as a threat to his own influence and prestige and he determined to steal Assad's thunder. He did so to devastating effect by his flight to Jerusalem and his address to the Knesset in November 1977.

Carter's original reaction to Sadat's great move was one of consternation. The move had not been authorised by the United States and it was not comprehensive in spirit. But it turned out to be immensely popular with the American public, and Carter had nooption but to go along and to help Sadat and Begin to make a separate peace. Carter did make an important contribution at Camp David to the consummation of that peace. It was easier for Menachem Begin to be seen to make concessions at the request of thePresident of the United States than at the mere demand of an Arab potentate. Thus the Framework for a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel came into being, followed by the Peace Treaty itself, which still stands, having survived many and severe strains.

As for the Framework for Peace tout court, Sadat was not particularly interested in that, as Carter noted at the time. For Sadat, the Framework was no more than a fig leaf. It enabled him to claim that he had not abandoned the Palestinians and that he still cherished the ideal of Arab unity. For Begin, the Framework meant that he could do what he liked with the West Bank and Gaza, provided he described what he was doing there as "autonomy". For Carter it was a kind of wishful, vestigial tribute to what he had originally set out to do. Camp David sent Carter way up in the ratings for a time. He was widely seen by the American public as having "solved the Middle East".That made it all the worse for him when the Middle East erupted in Iran and put paid tohis hopes of a second term.

In retirement, however, Carter's reputation revived considerably, as is evident today. If there is any short general lesson, with regard to peace-making, to be drawn from Camp David, it is this: what matters is not the shape of the objective that the peace-maker sets out to attain, but what happens to him on the way and how he adapts to what happens to him.

By that test Jimmy Carter did well at Camp David, and we may hope that his apparently rather forlorn peace mission to Bosnia will also prove to be of service, long after the Christmas season is over.