Israelis and Palestinians have grown the furthest apart during periods of quiet; it is in times of violence that the two nations have suddenly become flexible in their positions. That defies everything we tell ourselves about prospects for peace, and everything the world has told Palestinians they must do to achieve it. A review of ‘The Only Language They Understand,’ by Nathan Thrall.
“The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine”, by Nathan Thrall, Metropolitan Books, 2017, 336 pages.
The year 2012 was particularly noteworthy in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: for the first time since 1973, not a single Israeli was killed in the West Bank. This was also the final year of then-Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s state-building project, celebrated by the international community, and even by Israel.
Theoretically, that should have led to a breakthrough in the peace process, at least as far as the West Bank was concerned. Conventional wisdom in Israel and in the world said that the violence and corruption that flourished under Arafat’s leadership were the main determinants in the collapse of peace talks and the meltdown of an Israeli “peace camp,” by virtue of the disappointment and lack of trust they created on the Israeli side. But after Arafat, in 2012, the two men in charge of the Palestinian Authority were: Mahmoud Abbas, who all but ignored Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip and saw security coordination with Israel as sacred (as he reportedly told a delegation of Israeli peace activists in 2014), and Prime Minister Fayyad, whose main focus was institution-building, and who refrained from almost any type of confrontation with Israel.
Instead, the exact opposite happened: Israel’s interest in the peace process completely died out. Prime Minister Netanyahu, who thee years earlier agreed under the duress of American threats to the idea of a Palestinian state, began laying more and more obstacles in its path. Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state was added as a new “core issue” in negotiations. Netanyahu’s demand that Israel maintain complete freedom of military action in a future Palestinian state hollowed out the very idea of Palestinian sovereignty. “Economic peace,” which had been Netanyahu’s proposed alternative to actual peace during the 2009 elections, turned out to be an empty slogan. Settlement construction and expansion continued unabated, and the settler population in the West Bank...Read More