By Franklin Lamb – Beirut
Truth be told, this observer, along with one suspects plenty of others, was miffed at Hezbollah this past Wednesday morning.
As I looked up at sunrise at Sammin Mountain above Beirut on the Western chain of Lebanon’s dramatic range to see if the rumor was true that the preceding night would welcome the season’s first snowfall, I was disappointed that there was not one centimeter of the white stuff, knowing that when it does arrive, it’s one the most beautiful sights in the Levant.
My disgruntlement got seriously worse as I answered my phone and was advised that Hezbollah had turned down a meeting with former President Jimmy Carter which this observer, and others, had been trying to arrange.
Carter came to Lebanon with a team from the Atlanta-based Carter Center, part of a fact finding visit during which he sought a permit from the Lebanese Ministry of Interior to bring around 70 monitors from the US to observe up close the dramatically tightening Lebanese election, likely (but not sure!) to be held between April and June, 2009.
Israel and the Bush administration oppose Carter monitoring (read: meddling in) Lebanon’s coming election because one way or the other, if they can’t buy the election, they need to be able to declare the results "undemocratic, flawed, hijacked or illegal" if Hezbollah wins. If Carter gives his ‘seal of approval’ to the conduct of Lebanon’s voting, both realize that they can’t continue aborting free elections like the Hamas victory in 2006, if Carter keeps showing up and providing legitimacy.
"Why can’t that old man just go back to his former life as a peanut and worm farmer and let us take care of business", one strapping, earnest pro-Lebanese Forces, student, wearing a Samir Geagea button, explained to friends leaving Issam Faris Hall, as the Carter entourage, with its heavily armed US Secret Service deployment, exited stage right for departure to Damascus.
The myriad Lebanese Confessions (a French colonial euphemism for Lebanese Tribes) seem to agree that Carter monitoring its elections is a good thing and support for his request is also found in Article 20 of the Lebanese election laws which explicitly allows for "International monitoring of the elections."
If Carter’s plan goes forward, he told us last night at the American University of Beirut, it would be the 73rd election the Carter Center has observed. The main result of the monitoring he explained is that it prevents many strong arm tactics and incidents of blatant electoral fraud. One wonders if Carter’s team can curtail those still moist ink $100 bills, being passed out by the ‘green fingers’ guys on motor bikes.
Carter told his standing room only audience, which gave him a long standing ovation as he entered the lecture hall; exactly 34 years to the day after Carter announced his candidacy for the US Presidency, on December 12, 1974, that of all the 72 elections he had monitored, "The most perfect three were the ones conducted by the Palestinians". He added that the parliamentary polls in 2006, which Hamas won, "were a completely open, honest and fair contest, aborted by Israel and the US".
I could not help noticing that the vivacious smile worn by Carter and my lovely new Ambassador to Lebanon, Michele Sison, who was sitting in the center seat of the front row, (probably unaware that three Hezbollah guys were, by chance, sitting two rows behind her), turned downward into a dark frown as Carter spoke these words.
Before Carter entered the hall, our radiant Ambassador shook my hand, spoke warmly, and melted my heart with her charm even though I am advised that she hates me more than her predecessor Jeff Feltman does. I can handle Feltman’s ire (and David Welch’s for that matter) but I get all weak kneed before those big dark smiling eyes and the natural Philipina warmth of Michele Sison, particularly since I left my heart years ago to her look-alike in the town of Muntinglupa southeast of Manila.
Speaking of Feltman and Welch, while Carter was holding discussions in Beirut about the Lebanese election, this duo was busy seven times zones west, on the same day and the same subject, doing what they do best, threatening and trying to scare the Lebanese with dire consequences if Hezbollah wins the Lebanese election.
Feltman, participating in the one-day Washington Conference entitled: Lebanon: Swing State of a New Levant (the erstwhile “New Middle East” language has been discredited but the meaning remains the same) warned of "bad ramifications on Lebanon if Hezbollah wins the next legislative elections in a manner that allows the party to control the government, (what does Feltman think elections are supposed to do?) because, U.S. aid to Lebanon will be threatened. There must be no illusions about that," he said.
Feltman’s former boss and longtime mentor, Martin Indyk was even blunter, threatening that "the United States will not allow Lebanon to become a failed state". Some have interpreted Indyk’s words to mean that if Hezbollah wins the election US forces will be shifted from Iraq and Afghanistan into Lebanon.
While Feltman and Indyk were was playing ‘bad cops’ their partner on the "A-Team of Zionist Operatives", David Welsh was playing the ‘good cop’, telling the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, that while "Syria is seeking to influence Lebanese internal affairs, the United States will not attempt to influence Lebanon’s election and the future of Lebanon lies in the hands of the Lebanese more than any time before." (!)
Hezbollah Refuses Carter’s Offer of Dialogue
Hezbollah says it has no problem with the Carter Center monitoring next year’s election, which given the US threats sounds increasingly like a good idea, but the Party still refused to meet with him.
Indeed, the widely respected leader of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, MP Mohammad Raad, told AFP that his Party "does not meet with anyone from a US administration which supports Zionist terrorism."
Upon hearing this statement, my first thought was, "this is utter nonsense! What is Raad talking about? Somebody at HHQ messed up!" I looked back up at the mountains and waited for a correction from Hezbollah’s Media Office. Silence.
Hezbollah is very sophisticated and knows well that Carter has not been "from a US administration" for 28 years and not only does not "support Zionist terrorism" but has been critical of Israel (albeit usually privately until recently) for longer than Hezbollah has been in existence.
Carter and Hezbollah agree that the Bush Administration ‘terrorism list" is by and large nothing more than a "political list" and Carter has been as critical of some aspects of Bush’s criminal crusade in Iraq and Afghanistan as Hezbollah. Hezbollah calls being on the Bush list a "Badge of honor" and former US Senator Jim Abourezk refers to it as an "Honor roll".
Days ago, Carter called Israeli policies in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza an international crime. He favors, along with American Professor Richard Falk, the Special UN Rapporteur on the situation of human rights on Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, the ICAI HOKOK (International Coalition against Impunity) filing against Israel this week before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, for its continuing International Crimes in Gaza. The HOKOK Petition urges the ICC to convene in Gaza to take evidence, as allowed by the Rome Statue.
Moreover, Hezbollah is no stranger to meeting with former US officials, including ex-American Ambassadors Robert Dillon, Richard Viets, Robert Keeling, and Edward Peck, all just since 2006, visits arranged by the Washington-based Council for the National Interest (directed by former long-term members of Congress including Paul Findlay and Pete McCloskey and long serving diplomats like Eugene Bird). I was present in several of those meetings and Hezbollah clearly values the dialogue as much as the Americans. Mutual respect and friendships form, a result of the frank dialogue and Q and A’s from both sides.
It is no secret that Hezbollah also crosses paths regularly with various, American academics, religious leaders, ex-politicians and human rights activists.
Moreover, Carter has met over the past couple of days with most of Hezbollah’s main allies, including another five hours with Hamas on Sunday –except one!
So Raad’s announcement did not make sense…when it was first issued.
Foreign and domestic political observers in Lebanon searched for explanations. Some no doubt thought Hezbollah unwittingly joined some sleazy company in deciding to boycott Carter.
Granted, Carter was partially responsible for bribing Egypt 30 years ago at Camp David to turn its back on the Palestinian and Arab cause, effectively ending Egypt’s resistance to the Zionist project across its Sinai. One Hezbollah contact suggested that Camp David could be the reason Carter was boycotted. Yet, Camp David alone as the reason was not convincing, being 30 years ago and, anyhow, Hezbollah is all about redemption and would have been interested in Carter’s explanations.
Also, the ‘supporter of Zionist Terrorism’ charge against Carter seemed weak since Carter’s recent activities and writings including his volume, Palestine, Peace, not Apartheid, are viciously attacked by extremist Zionists hate groups including the Zionist Organization of America, Jewish Defense League, and the Anti Defamation League, among others. They regularly accuse the Nobel-prize winning Carter of (what else?) "Overt anti-Semitism" in the words of the resident Islamophobe Mad Hatter at Harvard Law School, Alan Dershowitz, who claims, without a scintilla of evidence, that the Carter Center is "bought and paid for by the Arabs!"
Numerous Israeli officials and the Israel lobby, no friends of Hezbollah, also boycott Carter and as one Hezbollah member who favored a meeting advised, Hezbollah could lose more than Carter since he is popular and has electoral shirt tails in Lebanon. His teams’ presence outside the poll locations may remind voters than Hezbollah ‘dissed’ him.
According to an editorial in Beirut’s Daily Star: "Carter’s critics were enraged that he had so courageously condemned "Israel’s continued control and colonization of Palestinian land" – and had done so openly in the most honest and unequivocal of terms. Some of his detractors launched an all-out smear campaign calling for protests against the former president and boycotts against stores that dared to sell or advertise his book. Carter’s subsequent decision earlier this year to meet with leaders of Hamas provoked similar ire, and prompted Olmert to snub an offer for a visit with the US president."
So what’s the problem between Carter and Hezbollah?
I do not think there is one and believes we must look elsewhere for the answer to Hezbollah’s ‘refusal’ to sit with Carter.
As hypothesized below, that unheld non-Hezbollah first meeting is the key to solving the mystery of the unheld Hezbollah meeting.
There are some major differences between the views of the Sunday school teacher from Plains and the Sheiks and Sayeeds who studied in Najaf and Qom but that would seem to be all the more reason for dialogue, and according to party members, differing views have rarely stopped Hezbollah from talking with anyone.
Moreover, Carter, (deeply religious), and Hezbollah, (deeply religious), presumably share a similar thirst for others insights and dialogue on a panoply of questions on man’s existence and society including the importance of religion in regulating one’s impulses and behavior, the role of the Prophets, the sanctity of life, existence of heaven, the origins and shared values of Islam and Christianity, human rights and any manner of subjects.
One Hezbollah supporter commented while waiting in line to go thru security before Carter’s AUB lecture, "I’m tired of Lebanese politics but I would love to hear a Carter/Hezbollah dialogue about Religion which increasingly is manipulated by politicians-in Lebanon and many parts of the World’.
Differences between Carter and Hezbollah
Among the differences between Carter and Hezbollah is the fact that Carter is willing to accept a religious Jewish State, in most of Palestine and Hezbollah is not.
Carter is also willing to finesse the core Right of Return issue by limiting the Palestinian claim to reacquire their stolen lands to the truncated West Bank and Gaza, with Israel deciding how many Palestinians, if any, can return to their lands behind the 1949 ‘greenline’.
Along with Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brezinski, (the latter Carter’s National Security Advisor), neither of whom accept a full Right of Return for expelled Palestinians, and who stated as much last month in Op Eds, Carter favors a solution that would essentially constitute a ‘buy out’ of the Palestinians Right of Return. He would dollop out cash from a ‘Super Fund’ (guess who pays this ‘bailout?), call it ‘just, full and adequate compensation’ (in truth it would be none of these) and let Israel keep most Palestinian land.
These schemes are anathema to Hezbollah and most Palestinians, especially the younger generation.
One Palestinian AUB student asked: "Mr. President, How can you or anyone honestly expect us to live in a Palestinian state next to an Israeli state when we know their State is on our stolen land"?
Carter expressed sympathy, pressed his lips together, nodded slowly, understood the question, but failed to cogently answer the young lady.
Hezbollah believes Palestine cannot be bought or sold, is to be held in perpetuity for the Arabs and their progeny who were violently dispossessed, and the Party has sworn to help the Palestinians liberate every inch, or in the Hezbollah lexicon, "every grain of sand!"
The Lebanese Resistance will, however, accept a compromise agreeable to the Palestinians, recognizing that it’s Palestinians land after all and Hezbollah has no right to oppose a solution ratified by a majority of the Palestinians.
While it will take more time to ferret out all the details, I think we now have a fairly clear idea what actually occurred and why Hezbollah stiffed Carter this time, but may graciously invite him to dialogue with the Party of God when he returns to Lebanon in the spring.
But before readers conclude that I have gone soft on Carter, his 62 years of marriage to the same woman, his four fine children, 11 grandchildren and any day now his second great grandchild, or the fact that he still teaches Bible Study every Sunday in his local parish, please consider this sinner’s earlier "unrequited love experience" with the 39th President.
Love and Loathing in 1976: Why I Hated Jimmy Carter
Early in 1976 living in England in those pre-Internet days, I had barely heard of "Jimmy Who?" Carter from Plains, Georgia, even though he had announced his candidacy for president nearly two years earlier.
I was not alone. After nearly two years of campaigning for the Democratic nomination, a January 3, 1976 Newsweek Poll showed only 4 per cent of Democrats favored Carter as the Democratic Party’s nominee. I was down deep in the 96 per cent who preferred someone—nearly anyone– else. Perhaps Birch Bayh, Sargent Shirver, Henry Jackson, Fred Harris, Morris Udall, Lloyd Bentsen, Frank Church, Jerry Brown, Hubert Humphrey, Ted Kennedy (the last two not even candidates) and only Alabama’s George Wallace chilled me more than ‘Jimmy’ did.
I became a charter member of the ABC (Anybody But Carter) cabal.
Returning home to Oregon, still a staunch Wayne Morse Democrat, and having won my second straight election, this time to represent Oregon on the Democratic National Committee. My first electoral success was running in Massachusetts with my neighbor Michael Dukakis. Michael bested me by 42 votes only because his very pretty wife Kitty was dynamite at going door to door for the ‘gifted one’ as we called Michael those days on Aspinwall Avenue and Perry Street where we were neighbors. But we both got elected as there were five open seats that year as Representatives to the Brookline, Massachusetts Town Meeting. Senator Birch Bayh from Indiana, asked me to chair his Oregon Presidential Campaign.
That job lasted maybe 120 days as Birch was winnowed rather quickly, and months before the May Oregon Primary, from the gaggle of would be Democratic nominees that year. All dozen or so were eager to take on Gerald Ford who had recently pardoned Richard Nixon and looked like a sure loser, in the words of former President Lyndon Johnson, ‘having been tackled once too often playing college football at Michigan". Ford actually did narrowly win the general election in Oregon that year.
So I moved on to my next favorite candidate, California’s Governor Jerry Brown. Jerry failed to meet the Democratic Party filing deadline (not my fault—he vacillated and jumped into the race late to stop Carter!) but we ran a strong write-in campaign and he came in a close Third to Second place Carter and the winner, Idaho’s Frank Church. I still recall some enthusiastic Portland teenagers painting the walls of Portland’s Union Hall (and their faces!) with Brown paint for our election eve Rally for our ‘Moonbeam’, Carter-dissing, Jesuit educated, Linda Ronstadt dating, tofu and brown rice chomping southern neighbor.
When Brown failed, I jumped onto the Frank Church bandwagon, but he too faded shortly after the Oregon Primary.
But Jimmy ‘Who?’ just kept coming…and winning… more than he lost, as Hezbollah likes to say "step by step".
I was aghast! After seven years of college in Boston, joining a bus cavalcade to Mississippi to deliver shoes donated by New England Shoe manufacturers (there still were still some in those days) in the Mississippi Delta with my heart throb from Wellesley College, Amanda ‘Merryweather Post’ Hawes (‘Mandy’ dumped this "hick Oregonian"– as Carter’s aide Tim Kraft later referred to me, and as her name implies she might do, for a Wall Street Banker), I not only didn’t cotton to Carter or his candidacy, my problem was visceral—and no doubt psychological.
My disdain included his accent, his frozen grin, the fact that he was a ‘born again’ (pretty bizarre to this then staunch Episcopalian contemplating Divinity school) but beyond that was, frankly, the mere fact that he was a deep Southerner with all that it implied to me.
Carter was anathema to some of us elitist would-be abolitionist New Englanders in those post Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, Malcom X, 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, murdered civil rights workers days. I ignorantly laid the deaths of Viola Liuzzo, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Henry Schwerner, James Reeb, and 24 other murdered civil rights workers at the feet of "the whole racist South". ( And I have accused some Arabs of being tribal?)
As election realities had it that turbulent year, by the time of the Democratic Convention in New York I had become a tepid Carter delegate and remained loyal to him until fellow Democrat Edward Kennedy challenged him four years later.
Primary after primary, with a few exceptions, Carter beat us bad in the 1980 delegate count and his friends blamed Kennedy and political hacks like me for splitting the Party and electing Ronald Reagan.
There is some truth to that…but there was another reason Carter was denied a second term 28 years ago and that is linked to Hezbollah’s refusal to meet with Carter today.
The reason for this background is that the reader should appreciate that it took a long while to appreciate Jimmy Carter but I eventually did do and my admiration for him grows with each human rights initiative he launches and champions.
And the Answer is:
Hezbollah, my inquiries suggest, decided at the last minute not to meet with Jimmy Carter this trip at the request of Iran and out of respect for their Persian ally and the memory of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, still deeply revered in much of Lebanon among Hezbollah’s rank and file as well as the wider Shia community.
It was a one-time message-sending rejection to clear the air, tidy up and perhaps settle some old scores and does not necessarily preclude a future meeting in Dahiyeh or Tehran.
Some in Lebanon are speculating that Tehran put the kibosh on Hezbollah meeting with Carter, remembering Carter’s support for the Shah and the US embassy hostage crisis when, despite pleas from Carter operatives, Ayatollah Khomeini held the hostages until just after the 1980 US election, thus depriving Carter of reelection and throwing the contest to Ronald Reagan.
Like many of us, East and West, the Iranians have long memories. They recall that after taking office in 1977 Carter quickly visited Iran and toasted the Shah at a state dinner in Tehran, calling him "an island of stability in the troubled Middle East", while outside the Palace the Shah secret police were killing dissenters.
Some Iran’s leadership are said to believe that Carter heeded the advice of his aggressive national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who wanted to encourage the Shah to brutally suppress the revolution and rejected the more cautious US State Department, which proposed reaching out to opposition elements in order to smooth the transition to a new government.
When the Shah was finally overthrown, Carter’s refusal to give him up for trial in Iran led directly to the 444 day hostage crisis two days later.
Carter froze more than $8 billiona-worth of Iranian assets, cut off Iranian oil, ended US trade with Iran and clamped on heavy economic sanctions which were devastating to Iran’s civilian population. According to Iran, Carter’s administration secretly plotted with Saddam Hussein and others against the new government, targeting Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and his successor and current Supreme leader Ali Khamenei and others for assassination.
Twenty eight years later, Iran’s leadership may have wanted this week to send a message to Carter — and perhaps others — much as they did to Clinton at the UN in 2000, when then Iranian President Ali Khamtai kept Clinton cooling his heels for a hoped-for meeting which Ali Khamenei scratched at the last minute.
"It’s all about respect", an Iranian journalist, formally with the Iranian channel Press TV explained yesterday, "Had Carter first approached the Iranian Embassy he might have had no problem meeting this time with Hezbollah. Enshallah, next time all will go well. Neither Iran nor Hezbollah deny some of Carter’s recent humanitarian work and I think the point has been made and perhaps the file is now closed. Let us see what happens in the spring."
– Franklin Lamb, an international lawyer and researcher, currently based in Dahiyeh, South Beirut, drafted, for HOKOK, the International Coalition against Impunity, its Complaint/Submission filed, on December 12, 2008, the 60th Anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with the Internationally Criminal Court in The Hague. The Case charges Israel with continuing Rome Statue International crimes in Gaza and throughout Occupied Palestine. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.