Jonathan and Noah, I think both of you are correct about the Malley/Agha op-ed in the New York Times. It is both a useful recognition that the real issue goes back to 1948 and an ominous indication of the anti-Zionist direction in which such experts want to take the discussion, with the assistance of the Times.
I think the key portion of the op-ed was the following:
Mr. Netanyahu underscores that Israel must be recognized as a Jewish state—and recalls that the conflict began before the West Bank or Gaza were occupied. Palestinians, in turn, reject recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, uphold the refugees’ rights and maintain that if Israel wants real closure, it will need to pay with more than mere statehood.
. . . [The conflict] can be settled, both sides implicitly concur, only by looking past the occupation to questions born in 1948—Arab rejection of the newborn Jewish state and the dispossession and dislocation of Palestinian refugees.
The Arab rejection of the newborn Jewish state is now in its 62nd year, and as George Will said at the Claremont Dinner earlier this year, “How the president believes that if we return to the 1967 borders, the antipathy to Israel, which predated the 1967 borders, will disappear, I do not know.” Malley and Agha have performed the useful service of telling us that Will’s analysis is correct.
As for the dispossession and dislocation of the 700,000 Palestinian refugees in 1948 and the rights of refugees, one solution would be to employ the same one used for the dispossession and dislocation of the 850,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries in 1948: resettle them in their new countries and give them rights.
In Lebanon today, Palestinian refugees are kept in squalid camps, the permanent wards of a UN agency dedicated to maintaining them there, without the right to become citizens, barred by law from most profitable professions, without even the right to own property, subjected to prohibitive fees as “foreigners” to obtain education—all of which leaves them without jobs, income, schooling, or decent housing. They should be given their basic humanitarian rights in the country in which most have lived their entire lives. It is not a solution simply to move them to the West Bank or to assert a specious “right of return” to demographically overwhelm Israel (or force it to assume responsibility for the consequences of a war the Arabs started).
Perhaps one day a U.S. president will address the Muslim world again. But instead of catering to tropes about Israel and the Holocaust, he will summon the courage to address the leaders of the Arab countries and, using the historic words of a former president, demand that they tear down those camps.