Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Timing the placement into movie theaters the last two weeks of the new documentary, "Jimmy Carter Man From Plains," before the proposed Middle East conference in Annapolis this year was not intentional. But the irony of the former president's clarity on the Palestinian question contrasts sharply with the refusal by George W. Bush to face harsh reality that casts a pall over hopes to conclude his presidency with a diplomatic triumph.

In the film, Carter repeatedly and unequivocally states what Palestinian and Israeli peace advocates view as undeniable: to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace with all its benefits for the world, Israel must end its illegal and oppressive occupation of the West Bank. That is a prerequisite that neither President Bush nor congressional leaders of both parties can approach for fear of being labeled anti-Israeli or even anti-Semitic (as Carter has been).

With the end to the occupation not on any participant's agenda, hopes for substantive accomplishment at Annapolis are dim. Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Oct. 24, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned of "further radicalization of Palestinian politics, of politics in the region" if "we lose the window for a two-state solution." But she did not mention the forbidden words of Israeli removal from the West Bank.

These words are not forbidden in "Man From Plains." I was surprised when a publicist for the movie invited me to a private screening in advance of its Washington debut Saturday. For the past 32 years, I had been a critic of Carter -- but not of his most recent and most attacked book, "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid."

The unusual documentary is mainly an account of Carter's travels promoting his 21st book. Nothing normally would seem more boring than presentation of a book tour. But Jonathan Demme, the Academy Award-winning director of "The Silence of the Lambs," has produced a beautiful, fascinating film, whose two hours sped by.

Demme told me he intended the documentary as a "portrait in motion" of the 83-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate, whom he greatly admires, "to find out what makes Jimmy Carter tick." But it became a condemnation of what Demme now calls "land-grabbing" from the "oppressed" Palestinian people.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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