Thrall, Nathan. “The Only Language They Understand”, Metropolitan, 2017.
Can the Status Quo in the Israel/Palestine Conflict Be Changed?
Nathan Thrall is considered to be one of the best informed, most insightful, and least polemical analysts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His conclusion about the present conflict is the title of his new book, “The Only Language They Understand”, and it is that the status quo will remain in place indefinitely unless the two sides are forced to change it. No one is prepared to exert such force.
It’s been tried in the past but not since the 1990s. It was then that President Jimmy Carter confronted Israel repeatedly and unrelentingly, threatening at one point to terminate U.S. military assistance. There were accusations that he was “selling Israel out,” and the ultimate outcome was the Camp David Accords of September, 1978. In 1991 James Baker, George H. W. Bush’s Secretary of State, withheld a $10 billion loan guarantee and brought Israel to the negotiating table in Madrid.
Without pressure, however, neither Israel nor Palestine have much of an incentive to upset the existing conditions, according to Thrall sees it. Israel’s position has only strengthened since the Oslo Accords of the mid-1990s. She has greater control of more of the West Bank and this includes an extensive security barrier, some of which it would have to give up in a peace agreement. Palestinian Authority leaders understand that foreign aid, and their own jobs, would be at risk if there were a comprehensive peace deal. They also realize that their relation to Israel has profoundly changed— “transformed from a protector against an occupying army into an agglomeration of self-interested businessmen securing exclusive contracts from it.” There are world leaders who maintain that time is short, but as Thrall reminds us that that peace is within grasp but overstated as warnings that the perpetually closing window for a two-state solution has nearly shut, or that the occupation of the West Bank “will make Israel an international pariah.” Meanwhile, Israel has become a regional power and cordially works with Egypt and Jordan, and quietly with Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the Emirates.
Thrall also updates several important pieces which first appeared in periodicals. He deconstructs Ari Shavit’s “My Promised Land” and documents the shortcomings of Shavit’s history of Israel and the flaws in his reasoning. He also takes a hard look at the Shavit’s book and how it was so ecstatically received by American Jews.
Then there is Thrall’s very strong critique of John Kerry’s diplomatic ministrations and calls them “faith-based diplomacy”. —is also required reading. “Kerry found a formula to launch new negotiations: he made inconsistent promises to each side.” He also gives us a look at the failures of the Obama Administration’s approach and states that these did not attain anything whatever.
In several other essays, Thrall looks at the intifadas and other Palestinian protests; the increasing Israeli dominance of East Jerusalem; Hamas; and the skepticism about the “two-state solution.” Everything he says is documented, hugely informative and argued. What we get here is a clear understanding of
the dynamics of Israeli-Palestinian relations as well as an essential guide to the history, personalities, and ideas behind the conflict.