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The Only Language They Understand

Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine

Nathan Thrall


The Only Language They Understand Download image

ISBN10: 1250303893
ISBN13: 9781250303899

Trade Paperback

336 Pages



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Scattered over the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea lie the remnants of failed peace proposals, international summits, secret negotiations, UN resolutions, and state-building efforts. The conventional story is that these well-meaning attempts at peacemaking were repeatedly, perhaps terminally, thwarted by violence.

Through a rich interweaving of reportage, historical narrative, and powerful analysis, Nathan Thrall presents a startling counter-history. He shows that force—including but not limited to violence—has impelled each side to make its largest concessions, from Palestinian acceptance of a two-state solution to Israeli territorial withdrawals. This simple fact has been neglected by the world powers, which have expended countless resources on initiatives meant to diminish friction between the parties. By quashing any hint of confrontation, promising an imminent negotiated solution, facilitating security cooperation, developing the institutions of a still unborn Palestinian state, and providing bounteous economic and military assistance, the United States and Europe have merely entrenched the conflict by lessening the incentives to end it. Thrall’s important book upends the beliefs steering these failed policies, revealing how the aversion of pain, not the promise of peace, has driven compromise for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Published as Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza reaches its fiftieth anniversary, which is also the centenary of the Balfour Declaration that first promised a Jewish national home in Palestine, The Only Language They Understand advances a bold thesis that shatters ingrained positions of both left and right and provides a new and eye-opening understanding of this most vexed of lands.


Praise for The Only Language They Understand

“Nathan Thrall does a brilliant job describing the political and geostrategic reasons for the intractability . . . His argument is smart and hard to dispute.”—The New York Times Book Review

“This June, Israel is marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Six-Day War. Not surprisingly, a number of new books have appeared in this grim anniversary year . . . By far the most cogent . . . is Nathan Thrall’s The Only Language They Understand, which surveys the last five decades and comes to a remarkable conclusion: the only way to produce some kind of movement toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to apply significant coercive force to the parties involved, and in particular to Israel.”—The New York Review of Books

“Thrall has consistently been one of the sharpest observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the United States’ role in trying to end it, and his most recent contribution, The Only Language They Understand, is true to form . . . His argument is a compelling one, and Thrall expertly marshals historical evidence to demonstrate his thesis that both sides respond to sticks rather than carrots.”—Foreign Affairs

“Thrall is one of the best-informed and most trenchant observers of the conflict.”—Financial Times

“Life is short, and writings about Israel and the Palestinians can be very, very long. So it’s a good thing there’s Nathan Thrall.”—Time

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Nathan Thrall

Nathan Thrall is a leading analyst of the Arab-Israeli conflict. He is a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books and is a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, for which he has covered Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza since 2010. His writing and analysis are often featured in print and broadcast media, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Economist, Time, CNN, Democracy Now!, PRI, and the BBC. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and daughters.

Nathan Thrall

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