J.J. Goldberg

Malley & Agha in the N.Y. Review of Books, Channeling Avigdor Liebeman

By J.J. Goldberg

Now I’ve Seen Everything Dept.: Among the items featured as recommended reading in the January 20 edition of the Daily Alert, the electronic news digest of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, is the latest essay by Rob Malley and Hussein Agha in The New York Review of Books.

Why is this out of the ordinary? Well, the Daily Alert is a digest of key news items that demonstrate the implacability of Israel’s enemies, the blamelessness of Israel’s own actions and the weaknesses of the peace process. It’s prepared every morning by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, the deeply conservative think tank headed by former diplomat Dore Gold, and is sent out by e-mail to several hundred thousand readers on behalf of the Conference of Presidents. Malley and Agha, for their part, are Middle East policy experts — Malley an American official with the International Crisis Group and Agha, a Palestinian-British academic — who write periodically about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in The New York Review of Books. They’re frequently critical of the Israeli policy-making echelon, and the sentiment is extremely mutual.

You might say that Malley and Agha are from Venus and Dore Gold is from Mars. Or, put differently, Malley and Agha are from Geneva and Gold is from Jerusalem the United, Eternal and Undivided Capital of the Jewish People. Either way, a Malley-Agha essay is about the last thing you’d expect to find in the Daily Alert.

So why is this Malley-Agha essay, “Who’s Afraid of the Palestinians?,” different from all other Malley-Agha essays? In a word, because they argue here that, given the current state of play in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Washington and the Arab capitals, no peace agreement is likely in the foreseeable future. Which is, you should pardon me, pretty much the same thing Avigdor Lieberman has been saying lately. On top of that, they write at length of the current strategies of the Palestinian leadership, including hoping for U.S. pressure and looking for international recognition, each of which they dismiss as misdirected.

The passages quoted in the Daily Alert capture some of the authors’ pessimism and their dim view of Palestinian strategy. Nor surprisingly, they leave out the parts that put Israel in a bad light.

The main point of the essay is that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians have a real incentive to take risks right now — Israel because of the security provided by the barrier, Palestinians because of Salam Fayyad’s efforts to build a state and show a the capacity of self-governance. Palestinians overestimated America’s ability to pressure Israel. Israel’s demographic problem — the impending need to choose between a democratic state and a Jewish one — has been deferred for the foreseeable future by the disengagement from Gaza.

The one threat that could still impel Israel to seek a solution is the growing problem of international isolation, or what Israelis call delegitimization. But, they argue, Israelis are more likely to respond to European hostility with resentment and retrenchment rather than by trying to resolve the Palestinian conflict that spurs the hostility.

Here are the passages from the Malley-Agha essay that appear in the Daily Alert as bullet points:

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