Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Analytical Collapse of Hussein Agha and Robert Malley

     Hussein Agha and Robert Malley have a long article in the current issue of the New York Review of Books, "Who's Afraid of the Palestinians?" Agha has an academic position at Oxford University and has been an adviser to the Palestinian Authority.  Malley is a former State Department official and member of Bill Clinton's advisory team on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; of that group, Malley was the most understanding of, and sympathetic to, the Palestinian position.  Since leaving the government, Malley has become one of the best known analysts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he and Agha have co-authored many prominent  and persuasive articles on the conflict.

        In that light, it is very surprising the latest Agha/Malley effort is so weak--at best, in Phil Weiss's terrific characterization, "lame and narcotized;" at worse, infuriating.  Moreover, given the prominence of the NYRB and the reputation of its authors, the article is certain to attract wide attention and could have disastrous consequences in terms of public and perhaps even US government understanding of why all efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have failed.

       To begin, the article has no clear argument-- as one reads it, it is hard to know its point  or where it is going.  Still, the underlying theme seems to be that the situation is hopeless: no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict--two-state, one-state, unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood, whatever--is going to work.  There are certainly grounds for pessimism; however, the problem is that the Agha-Malley (hereafter, A/M) analysis on what has gone wrong and who is responsible is misleading or demonstrably wrong. 

       Even more surprising, the article is poorly written.  In its obvious striving for style points as well as for analytical "balance," the article is replete with empty rhetoric, strawmen, and false symmetries.  Moreover, it affects a kind of world-weary, above-it-all, plague-on-all-your-houses tone that is inappropriate and  grating, beginning with its annoyingly light-hearted title. 

        At one level, A/M seem to be arguing that everyone is to blame for the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including not only the protagonists themselves but also the United States, the Arab states, and the international community.  However, in the course of the analysis, it is the Palestinians that get the bulk of the criticisms, and Israel the least.

        The article's criticisms of US, Arab, and UN policies in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are brief,  undeveloped, and unimpressive. 

US Policies.  Obama is first criticized because of his supposed inconsistency: his relationship with Netanyahu has gone from being "excessively cold" to being "excessively warm."  Since A/M do not point to any consequences of Obama's "excessively cold" personal relationship with Netanyahu, it is hard to know what they have in mind.  Still, what could the implication be-- that because Netanyahu was angry at Obama he was driven to even harder line policies than he otherwise would have pursued?  If so, it is unpersuasive.

        A/M are pleased that recently the US-Israeli relationship has improved: the administration "has learned its was wiser to work with Netanyahu than against him... [because] there is only limited strategic utility in...repetitive skirmishes with Israel."  They do not specify how the new just-right temperature of US-Israeli relations has been helpful--except to Netanyahu, of course.

The Arabs.  In passing, A/M accuse the Arab states of being "as feckless as ever."  Since they don't develop the point, it is not clear what they mean: surely they would not have the Arabs join forces to attack Israel and liberate the Palestinians from Israeli rule?   To be sure, elsewhere in the article the authors seem to hint at what they have in mind, for they note that the Israelis would like "collective normalization" with the Arab world.  However, A/M fail to point out that collective normalization is precisely what nearly all the Arab states for a number of years have been formally and repeatedly offering (especially in the 2002 and 2007 Arab League proposals, adopted by twenty-two Arab states), if Israel ends its occupation of the Palestinians and accepts a two-state peace settlement.

The International Community.  A/M write:

"The international community's treatment of the PA as a quasi state has not brought Palestinians closer to statehood....Throwing money at the Palestinians has not ended the occupation but made it more palatable: it has reduced Israeli costs and created a Palestinian culture of dependency, diverting Palestinian energy from addressing their predicament....The illusions helped perpetuate the status quo."

      For several reasons, this is a particularly bad passage.  First, the implied argument is unpersuasive, since A/M do not specify any effective things that the Palestinians could do, if only their energy was not being diverted by the money thrown at them by the international community.  Second, some of the language is startlingly callous: what possessed Agha and Malley to borrow Tea Party-type rhetoric about foreign aid?

      Third, the argument is an empty exercise in strawmanship: to my knowledge, no one thinks that international assistance will bring about an end of the Israeli occupation, or even make it more "palatable."   Finally, there have been a number of international economic studies that have shown that international humanitarian aid ("throwing money") has often been the difference, especially in Gaza, between the mere impoverishment of the Palestinian people, deliberately brought about by Israel, and an outright economic and societal collapse.

Israel.   One would think the starting point of any serious analysis of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be a discussion of the Israeli occupation and repression of the Palestinian people.  Even leaving aside (though one shouldn't) the pre-1967 history of the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, any assessment of the conflict that does not focus on forty-four years of Israeli occupation, repression, killings, military attacks, and economic siege is useless--or worse.  

        Rather than focusing on the crucial and obvious facts of the matter,  A/M barely mention them: in a single sentence, they write: "Israel controls Palestinian land, natural resources, and lives."  The implications of this passing and anodyne observation are not worked out, presumably because A/M's balancing act precludes them from making Israeli behavior the center of their argument.  If they had, the alleged shortcomings or errors of the Palestinians and other actors would be of marginal significance at most, leaving the authors with nothing original to say.

        To be sure, A/M do criticize "the growing loss of interest in negotiations" by Israel--though they immediately balance this by making the same criticism of the Palestinian leaders.  And even the criticism of Israel is full of sympathetic understanding: "Whether Israelis wish for a resolution is not the central issue; one can assume they do and still question why they would want to take risks and provoke deep internal rifts when there is no apparent urgency to do so."

        As for the egregious Netanyahu, more understanding: "The more time elapses, the greater Netanyahu's fear of alienating his right-wing coalition partner...Nothing concentrates the mind of a canny politician like electoral arithmetic."  An odd observation, even on its own terms:  since Netanyahu has no concern for moral justice or understanding of his country's true national security, he doesn't have to be all that "canny" to know he has to--wants to, is more like it--cater to the Israeli rightwing.

The Palestinians.

        It is the Palestinians who are most severely criticized for the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: they are accused of various "illusions" and "delusions," starting with their apparent naivite:  "For seventeen years, the peace process has been fueled by illusions.  Bilateral negotiations have cultivated the pretense that Israelis and Palestinians are equal parties when they are not."

        Who, precisely, believes that the Israelis and Palestinians are "equal parties"--hardly, one assumes, the Palestinians--and what is the implication?   It would be one thing if the point of this strawmanship was to address the obvious imbalance of power and emphasize the need for the U.S. or the international community to right the imbalance by supporting the Palestinian position.  However, that is not where A/M are going, since (as I have shown) they are dismissive of US or other international involvement in trying to settle the conflict.

         Since Israel isn't interested in a negotiated two-state settlement and nobody can effectively intervene, what strategy do A/M recommend to the Palestinians?  They have a lot to say about what they shouldn't do, but hardly anything about what they should.

         A return to armed struggle is certainly--and rightly--ruled out by A/M. First, it wouldn't work: "sheltered behind a separation barrier" and "protected by an aggressive force,"  the Israelis "feel less threatened by Palestinians than at any recent time."  Moreover, "the Palestinians are exhausted, in search of a respite, not a fight." Still further, "violence would compromise the foreign support upon which the Palestinian Authority has become dependent."

       What, then, of nonviolent Palestinian resistance and protest?   This is also given short shrift by A/M, presumably because if the Israelis feel immune from armed resistance, they will be even less moved by nonviolent protest.  Not content with arguing that nonviolent resistance won't work, A/M appear to be further suggesting that by pointlessly annoying Israel, the Palestinians make things even worse for themselves: "nonviolent forms of resistance to the Israeli occupation...are incompatible with a West Bank strategy that hinges on Israeli goodwill."

        What about other peaceful strategies?  A/M also treat most of them with disdain:

"Palestinians have looked for other nonviolent options.  It's a curious list: unilaterally declaring statehood, obtaining UN recognition, dissolving the PA, or walking away from the idea of negotiated partition altogether and calling for a single, binational state.  Not one of these ides has been well thought out, debated, or genuinely considered as a strategic choice, which, of course, is not their point.  They are essentially attempts to show that the Palestinians have alternatives to negotiation with Israel even as the proposals' lack of seriousness demonstrably establishes that they currently have none."

       Similarly, A/M dismiss the alleged Palestinian "excessive faith in Washington....However vehemently they deny it, Palestinians secretly latch on to the belief that the U.S. will someday save them." For the Palestinians to depend on the US to force Israel to relinquish the Palestinian territories "is not a political strategy [but]... a pointless exercise," they go on. 

     The problem with this argument is that A/M offer no evidence that the Palestinians have "secretly latched on" to an obviously blind faith in the United States.  In any case, the argument is yet another strawman: there is no evidence that a supposed dependence on American goodwill has prevented the Palestinians from doing things that would be more effective in ending the Israeli occupation.

      What's wrong with all this is not the A/M analysis of how few real options the Palestinians have--in fact, I share their assessments that nonviolence isn't working, that unilateral declarations of statehood won't change the reality of the continued Israeli occupation, and that there are no prospects for a binational state.  What is wrong with the A/M argument is that it places most of the blame for the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the Palestinians, whose efforts are repeatedly treated with patronizing disdain. 

       Moreover, A/M offer no alternatives, other than to counsel the Palestinians "to reclaim the initiative," lest they "lose the ability to shape events."  What in heaven's name are they talking about?  Imagine that a large thug has assaulted and robbed a small man, and is now standing on his neck.  Instead of coming to his rescue, passersby criticize the victim:  Get up!  Rid yourself of illusions!  Get a strategy! Reclaim the initiative and start shaping events!

      Don't try to resist by force, though, that would be hopeless; besides which, we disapprove of violence.  But don't cry out in protest, either--it will irritate the brute standing on your neck, on whose goodwill you depend.  And don't be so foolish as to seek our help, a pointless exercise that demonstrates your lack of seriousness.

       Above all, no one is afraid of you, so stop annoying us.

Is There Any Hope for the Palestinians?

    While clucking at the Palestinians' supposed failure to adopt useful strategies to "address their predicament," A/M come close to arguing, in effect, that there are none: no strategy has worked and neither will any that are presently being contemplated.

      In the only exception to this counsel of despair, A/M initially appear to argue that an international effort to delegitimize Israeli policies might work: unlike all the other strategies, they suggest, such a focused delegitimization campaign would genuinely concern the Israelis: "The conflict Israelis have come to care about is not with the Palestinians; it is with the rest of the world.....If it is delegitimization that Israelis fear, then it must be delegitimization that will make them budge."

      Yet, hardly have A/M pointed to the potential effectiveness of an international delegitimization strategy when they quickly pull the rug out from under it, warning against "the temptation" to adopt such a strategy, on the grounds that when pressures are "exercised on a people convinced by the calamities of their own history of the inveterate hostility of much of the outside world," the Israelis might "opt to hunker down rather than reach out."

      A/M are far too quick to dismiss the delegitimization strategy, which of course means the delegitimization only of the Israeli occupation and repression of the Palestinians, not of the "existence of Israel," as the obtuse and/or disingenuous rhetoric of many Israelis and "pro-Israeli" Americans would have it. 

     The only potentially more effective strategy than rhetorical delegitimization would be for the United States to condition its continued political, economic, and military support of Israel on the end of the occupation, but there's no chance of that happening.  Moreover, if delegitimization  risks an Israeli backlash (Jeremiah Haber has challenged this, here), so might US sanctions, for it cannot be ruled out that the Israelis have become so immune not only to moral considerations but to their own rational self-interest that nothing can penetrate their intransigence. 

      Consequently, there are real risks that any pressures, whether merely rhetorical or those with real teeth, could trigger dangerous Israeli irrationality.  Nonetheless, for those concerned with both justice for the Palestinians and the true interests of Israel, no other course is available.



pabelmont said...

I agree that Agha and Malley got it wrong.

And I most emphatically agree that pressure (UNSC resolution with teeth or UNGA resolution with such teeth as UNGA can manage -- persuasive teeth) is needed and nothing less will do.

And now is the time, after Tunisia and Egypt have made their moves (and I wish them all success).

Juan said...

Jerry, this is a fascinating analysis. I have to confess I read your piece here first, then A/M's, but I essentially agree with your criticisms. Without your introductory remarks about the authors, I would have viewed their article as a classic example of psychological warfare. In effect, it says to the Palestinians, "You have no viable options other than to make massive and unprecedented concessions, some of which are likely to be "at odds with popular Palestinian aspirations."

(Shortly thereafter, it holds that the Israelis have essentially already solved their Palestinian Problem--its the cooperation of the rest of the Arabs and US security guarantees that matter to them. As you note, this offer has been on the table for years).

Back to the my psy warfare notion. All the possible Palestinian approaches to pressuring toward a settlement are listed and trashed. The "mad dog" scenario of Dayan is clearly alluded to ("hunker down," "pressure is a double-edged sword,", etc.). These warnings are intended primarily for the US president, so that he will not try to pressure Israel again.

The article's main objective is to communicate to the Palestinians and to its (very inadequate) supporter the US, "This is your best and only real opportunity for a settlement. Let us essentially dictate the terms and cede most of Jerusalem and we will make peace."

(An undercurrent of A/M is how offensive it is to Israelis to be treated as "equals" by the weaker and hence far inferior Palestinians-- Palestinians should show more respect for their Israeli "betters.")

The possibility that the American public opinion might be fairly readily mobilized against Israel by continued Israeli blunders and news coverage(Mearsheimer's view) goes essentially unmentioned by A/M. Were this to happen, the Lobby's activities would come under intense criticism and enormous pressure would result if the general US public began to realize the extent to which Israelis have incited Muslims against the United States. To say American public opinion can turn on a dime is an understatement.

The events in Egypt have already precipitated a more realistic appraisal of the Muslim Brotherhood and related groups--an appraisal which will seriously challenge the US-Israel falsehood that most Arabs are latent suicide bombers and lead to increased concern for the years of Palestinian mistreatment.

My summary thoughts about A/M: Nice try at what at first glance looks like an honest but depressing view of the I-P conflict. In reality, this is psych. warfare that says to the Palestinians, "Compared to us, you are as fleas; irritating but totally unworthy of our serious concern. Come to the table and give us basically whatever we want, and we will do this deal."

What puzzles me is why Agha was willing to co-write this piece of trash...

Juan said...

Please permit me to clarify. The reference to Mearsheimer in my previous post suggests he believes American public opinion is fickle. What he actually said was, if Israel opts for a one-state solution which is essentially an apartheid state, once Americans realize how discrepant that is from our basic values, they might rapidly withdraw their support for Israel. (He believes support for Israel is not very deep.) The implication is, if Americans were to do so, the Lobby would have to follow their lead.

Gil Maguire said...


I seem to be the lone ranger on the Agha/Malley piece (hereafter “A/M”) and differ from Phil at Mondoweiss, Peter Belmont, Jerry Haber and you. What follows is my latest version of a response I earlier sent to Peter Belmont and Jerry Haber after their comments on the A/M piece.

I agree with many of your points regarding A/M’s characterization of the actions of the various parties, but I feel the purpose and value of the piece was to show just how powerless and hopeless the Palestinian position really is. Their title aptly reflects both their theme and their profound disillusionment.

There tends to be quite a bit of unjustified optimism in our circles about other actions the Palestinians could take, such as declaring a state or insisting on a single state solution. The Agha/Malley piece was useful in that it showed all the possible Israeli responses to the various proposed Palestinian actions/options and how the Palestinians really have no good options. The release of the Palestine Papers shortly after the article further enforces their point: nothing good is happening in the negotiations; the Israelis aren’t interested in a deal and the US remains Israel’s lawyer/lacky.

Until reading the A/M piece, I remained optimistic that the Palestinians had options to pursue that could effectively counteract Israeli intransigence. A/M have disabused me of my misplaced optimism. The most important point I took from the article was that a premature declaration of a Palestinian state could well result in a very diminished state (well less than 50 percent of West Bank ) which might have the effect of taking the I-P issue out of the international limelight. Here is the key A/M quote (toward the end of section 4):

"Some Palestinians suspect the strategy could lead to a state of their own but they are not so sure that would be a good thing. Like the idea of declaring a state or having it recognized, building one on the parts of the West Bank the Palestinians already control carries risks. By normalizing the situation on the West Bank, it could enable the perpetuation of the status quo at low cost and with diminished international attention.

Fayyad hopes that the world will not stop halfway, and that Palestinian accomplishments will provide the momentum for a forceful international effort to resolve all remaining issues. But history is not in the habit of rewarding good behavior; it is a struggle, not a beauty contest. If Palestinians have a state or its equivalent and are celebrated worldwide, if West Bankers can enjoy the fruits of greater self- governance and economic prosperity, then any international drive for tackling the core issues might well fizzle. The priority, at that point, would be to consolidate what has been achieved rather than jeopardize it by reopening more thorny subjects. A profound emotional conflict between two national movements could be transformed into a tedious, manageable interstate border dispute. The greater danger to the Palestinian cause, according to this view, is not the absence of a state. It is the premature creation of one."

This is a pretty scary scenario for the Palestinians, that they would end up with less than 10 percent of the original Mandate for their state and an international community that had moved on to other issues. The Palestinians need to be very careful that they don’t create an opportunity for the Israelis to allow that scenario to happen.

The A/M article is valuable in that it shows that there really are no other effective options available for the Palestinians so long as the Israeli military power and repression are funded, condoned, enabled and protected by the Israel lobby and the US government.

However disappointing and dismal their conclusions may seem, A/M provide a much-needed realistic assessment of the Palestinians' plight.

Juan said...


Thanks for ferretting out what I would now agree is the central point of the A/M article: the danger of premature state creation. (However, the authors do not make this point very clearly, in my view.) To me this seems a rather subtle point, but important because long-term consequences of current actions are often difficult to foresee. In this light, other aspects of their article also appear more as additional warnings than as advising the Palestinians to throw in the towel. The authors deserve much more credit than I had initially given them. Thanks again for your most helpful post.

Jerome Slater said...

Hi, Gil and Juan:

Thanks for your perceptive comments. I do agree that the strongest part of the A/M article is their pessimistic analysis of all the current options for the Palestinians. I sort of mention that in passing,but perhaps I should have emphasized what was strong about their argument, rather than what was weak, or downright infuriating.

That said, it wouldn't change my view that the emphasis on Palestinian "illusions" etc was all wrong, and that is simply infuriating to let the Israelis off the hook. Moreover, even with a pessimistic assessment, I don't believe you can just let it go at that. What follows? Nothing? Give up? Tell the Palestinians that they must not antagonize the Israelis,even by nonviolent protests, just accept their fate?

As far as I'm concerned, that won't do. As unpromising as it looks now, we cannot give up on a two-state solution: things can change. Ask Mubarak.

Juan said...

Hi Jerry,

I have once again reread A/M and I still think there are pro-Israeli psy. warfare elements in it. For example, "Without resolving its problem with the Palestinians, Israel has for the moment taken care of its Palestinian problem. ...what [Israel] worries about no more derives from the Palestinians than what it wants can be provided by them. Its concern arises from being unwanted, from the...sense that the Jewish presence in the Middle East is fleeting." Fears of international delegitimization are mentioned (Gaza attack, the flotilla raid,etc.) and then, the sentence: "If [to Arabs and others}Israel acts as if it were above the law, in the eyes of its...Jewish citizens it is treated as if it were perpetually on probation." In other words, criticism of Israel's inappropriate behavior is reduced to and implicitly equated with the hurt feelings of the offending party! If Israelis want not to be seen as "above the law," let them first respect it!

The article also seems to imply that the US cannot broker a settlement, but says nothing about the real reason for this: the Lobby and the stranglehold it has upon American politics.(See also Gil's points above.)

In summary, I agree with Jerry that A/M is pretty much doom-and-gloom. The authors disappoint in their failure to address the centrality of tacit US support of their colonization and suppression of human rights and their article actually seems to encourage continued Israeli intransigence.

This is all about territorial hegemony, free land and water, and American and Israeli "might is right" politics. Nonetheless, I personally believe the tide is turning against the occupations and the current Israeli negotiating position, and I think blogs like Jerry's are playing a significant and constructive role in this trend.

Juan said...

One final thought. The A/M article talks extensively about Palestinian miscalculations, delusions, and so forth, but says almost nothing about possible Israeli miscalculations and the possible adverse consequences of same for Israel. What if neighboring countries revolted against their current leaders? What if American politicians began openly questioning the "special relationship?" What if MSM offered pro-Palestinian writers more of a voice? What if current attempts to demonize Muslims fail? What about the trend of young American Jews feeling less and less allegiance to Israel? On such matters, A/M are curiously silent...

Gil Maguire said...

The Agha/Malley article has caused me to reevaluate my view of possible solutions to the I-P issue. I now don\'t see any utility to further US sponsored negotiations. There is simply no way any US administration will be able to force a "reasonable" solution (e.g. Arab or Geneva initiatives) on Israel in the current US political environment. The one way that could change would be if there was sufficient publicity about the harm the I-P issue is doing to US vital national security interests, including the linkage between the I-P issue and growing Islamic extremism. This possibility terrifies the Israelis and AIPAC and they fight it vigorously (see Jennifer Rubin's recent piece in the Washington Post).

I think we may be getting closer to that point as more and more Israeli stalwarts like Jeffrey Goldberg start showing doubts about the mindless insanity of current Israeli domestic and foreign policy. Getting us back on the realist track from the neocon disaster is the key to solving the I-P issue or at least divorcing the US from it to allow the UN to play its proper role.

While some say the solution is to be found in international law not negotiations, the problem is the all-powerful US veto which will be wielded in Israel’s favor so long as US Middle East policy remains under the influence or control of the lobby. That reality has prevented international law solutions for the past 43 years and will continue to do so. Hanan Ashrawi recognizes that in the first paragraph of her recent article when she implores the US to not block the pending UN resolution on the illegality of the settlements. I suspect it will be vetoed even though it will further harm US interests mainly because the Obama administration is focusing on reelection concerns above all else.

If and when AIPAC loses its influence, and the US again focuses on its own vital national security interests then Katie bar the door. A determined US, freed from the boot of Israeli and AIPAC political constraints, can easily handle Israel and AIPAC. There is a wealth of effective internal tools available, from funding cuts to declaring AIPAC an agent of a foreign power, to bully pulpit PR by the president. Externally, the US could lead UN international law-based efforts to force Israel to withdraw from all occupied territories. But, until the US makes that fundamental change in outlook, from neocon-ism back to realism, the US veto power will protect Israel from international law and UN sanctions.

The key is getting the US public and US politicians to recognize the harm Israel is doing to US vital national security interests and that patriotism lies in protecting US not Israeli interests. Trying to make that point is a very dangerous, if not fatal step for a politician, media player, or bureaucrat to take. Few remain willing to try.

On a more optimistic note, the current upheaval in Egypt seems to be causing a parallel upheaval among the Neocons. I’m not sure where that will lead (much it is self-serving claptrap claiming Neocon credit for the democracy movements) but I am hearing more and more comments in the MSM about US vital interests and Israel’s relationship to these. Perhaps there will be a major reassessment of where we are going and whether we should continue to hang on to Israel’s coat tails while far more important allies such as Turkey and Egypt (not to mention Lebanon and Jordan) move away from us. Unfortunately, justice and a state for the Palestinians remains well below the radar screen in the current discussions.

Gil Maguire

Juan said...

Gil said,

"The key is getting the US public and US politicians to recognize the harm Israel is doing to US vital national security interests and that patriotism lies in protecting US not Israeli interests. Trying to make that point is
a very dangerous, if not fatal step for a politician, media player, or bureaucrat to take. Few remain willing to try."

Al Jazeera English is willing to step in and deal with this problem. If they did, American public opinion would undergo a rapid change for the better! Here's a link to AJ's plea for access to the US market:

Richard Witty said...

The most important change that is occurring in Israel is of isolation. The right play on that isolation as coming from others' actions, and that Israel must stiffen.

The rational view is that Netanyahu and Lieberman are presiding over the rather quick devolution of three decades of incremental diplomatic effort. Rather than close the deal on the Arab League proposal, Netanyahu is alienating: Egypt (even Mubarak before the uprising), Jordan, the PA, Turkey and flirting dangerously close to another multi-front war with Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Gaza.

The Israeli electorate will hopefully reject the messianic (expansionist) in favor of the sober ("enough" Israel).

John Robertson said...

My humble thanks to all of you - Prof. Slater and all the discussants - for one of the most thoughtful and well-informed, rant-free exchanges I've come across in recent months.

I must be brief - but I too was saddened and perplexed - and disappointed - by the A/M essay in NYRB. I've long been a fan of their essays - and have promoted them with my own students - because they so successfully skewered the AIPAC/Likudist/Christian Zionist-favored interpretations, expounded upon the justice of the Palestinians' cause, and pointed to a way forward. But this latest essay seems almost a resignation from the discussion - turning over one's king on the chessboard and resigning, as it were.
On the other hand, I can see how they might feel that it's now come to that. The Palestinians are about out of options, and their own house is a mess - courtesy, in large part, of their Israeli interlocutors, who've never missed an opportunity to undercut an opportunity for the Palestinians (semi-channeling Abba Eban here). And Mr. Obama, whose inauguration offered hope and perhaps a last best chance, has proved to be both feckless and pusillanimous as a supposed force for a just resolution of the conflict.
Where does one go from here? I'd like to share Jerome's optimism in his comment "As unpromising as it looks now, we cannot give up on a two-state solution: things can change. Ask Mubarak."
Well, I don't want to give up on a 2-state solution (even though I believe that a truly just one would be a "bi-ethnic" one-state solution) - but as of today, unless something even more astounding happens in Egypt, Mubarak is still there, and even if he himself may be departing, his regime - and the Egyptian military - are still in the catbird seat.

Anonymous said...

I find this article and the comments extraordinarily moving. I had not expected to encounter such a thoughtful, reasoned, and cant-free (only one letter away from a previous commenter's observation, also true, that it is "rant-free"!) exchange on a perennially vexed topic.

Years ago I was full of admiration for A/M's masterful "Camp David" (NYRB 2001) - which was not, as I remember it, particularly hopeful about a negotiated solution. Sadly, Netanyahu seems far more bent on making negotiations impossible than Barak then did on getting into the ballpark.

Thank you all for these insightful comments.

ayumi said...

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