Named one of the Best Books of 2018 by Mosaic Magazine: “A knowledgeable and bold retelling of the Israel-Palestinian conflict that forces readers to take a serious and fresh look at their assumptions. Throughout its counterintuitive retelling of this history, it offers an unusually provocative and sometimes startling contribution to the genre.”
In Philosophy Football, Mark Perryman makes a selection of the books he’ll be depending on in 2019’s battle of ideas, writing: “What a relief therefore to read Nathan Thrall’s The Only Language they Understand an unashamed search for a principled compromise, that won’t satisfy entirely either side but will most.”
In the Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, Robbie Sabel writes: “The premise of this book is one to which most of us would ascribe, namely, that Israeli and Palestinian leaders will not make difficult decisions or painful compromises unless they feel that the alternative stalemate is untenable. The author, political analyst Nathan Thrall, postulates this bluntly: ‘Forcing Israel to make larger, conflict-ending concessions would require making its fallback option so unappealing that Israel would view a peace agreement as an escape from something worse’ (p. 71). He bolsters this thesis with meticulous scholarship. Thrall writes very knowledgeably about internal Palestinian affairs. The chapters dealing with the relations between Hamas and Fatah are a model of informative scholarship.”
In the Journal of Peace Research, Jørgen Jensehaugen writes: “Thrall’s book is rich with well researched, well argued, and often provocative analyses... [A]n in memoriam to a failed and delusional peace process, a scathing critique against political leaders who have lost touch with their own people and a j’accuse against well-meaning liberals who, despite their best intentions, fail to understand that the occupation and Israel cannot be treated as separate entities.”
Survival writes: “While much effort has been expended to bring about a solution to the Israel–Palestine conflict in ways that reduce the friction between the two, Thrall believes that such efforts have merely served to entrench the conflict. The avoidance of pain is a more motivating goal than achieving peace.”
In Politique étrangère, Samy Cohen writes: “C’est d’un livre engagé qu’il s’agit
In Middle East Eye, Avi Shlaim writes: “Informed by a deep understanding of US, Israeli and Palestinian politics. It is packed with new ideas and insights, and it poses a serious challenge to the conventional wisdom on the subject.”
In The Irish Times, Ruadhán Mac Cormaic writes: Nathan Thrall, author of the recently-published The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine, argues that Israel has consciously opted for stalemate rather than the costly concessions any peace agreement would require it to make.
In Middle East Journal, Ian Lustick writes: “Thanks to considerable prepublication buzz, Thrall’s argument in the first chapter is familiar to many Israel-Palestine watchers. ...[Israel] has only made concessions and will only make concessions (for peace or anything else) when it is presented with threats of loss that exceed the value of the concessions demanded. The other chapters are engaging, deeply informative, and even brilliant in their close evaluation of the delicate state of play among Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans. In the process, Thrall surfaces a great deal of information that will be new to most readers and some that will be startling even to close followers of the Israeli-Palestinian saga.”
In the Journal of Palestine Studies, Nubar Hovsepian writes: “Most welcome… A cogent and lucid reconstruction of the obstacles that prevent an acceptable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
In +972 Magazine, Noam Sheizaf writes: “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and even more so the peace process that accompanies it, is immersed in narratives and jargon that are completely divorced from reality on the ground. At the top of the list is the illusion that there are two sovereign entities — an Israeli one and a Palestinian one — in a complicated conflict over borders. In reality, the only sovereign is Israel — the Palestinian Authority is merely charged with managing on its behalf it a population without any rights living within its borders. The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine, a new book by Nathan Thrall, is one of the more important documents bridging that mythology and reality. Thrall is one of two International Crisis Group analysts in Israel and has lived in Jerusalem with his family since 2011, which means that in addition to closely tracking political elites he also has the intimate and intuitive familiarity of someone who is on the ground, and who is attentive to various social dynamics. (In other words, he knows what it feels like to send your kids to school during an “escalation” in Jerusalem.) His writing is practical and flush with details, manages to escape the self-righteous or preachy tone that characterizes so many analysts, and doesn’t seek to create false equivalencies between the two sides for the sake of political correctness. Thrall examines things from from a realist perspective, which places far greater importance on individuals’ and groups’ actions than their rhetoric or ideological declarations. That, too, is refreshing and overdue....The book is important, interesting, an easy read, and it serves as a crucial resource for the most significant core issues that occupy the news cycle — from Jerusalem to Gaza. It also gives original and instructive answers to the failure of the peace process that go beyond simply casting blame on one side or another.”
In The National Interest, Paul Pillar, a senior fellow at Georgetown University and 28-year veteran of the CIA, writes: “The political and diplomatic positions of both sides have changed significantly over these seven decades. Whatever movement there has been in a direction that would appear to make resolution of the conflict more possible has come in response to some form of force or pressure. This has been true on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. A detailed accounting of such changes, and of the circumstances that have led to them, can be found in the excellent book by Nathan Thrall, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, published this year under the title The Only Language They Understand.”
In the Swedish magazine Utrikes Magasinet, Johan Schaar, former deputy chief of Sweden’s Consulate General in Jerusalem, writes that Nathan Thrall “makes a concise, convincing and well-underlined analysis of why the conflict and occupation continues.”
In The New York Times, Nathan Thrall and Robert Blecher explain the root causes of the previous war in Gaza and how to avoid another one.
In the Danish magazine Eftertryk, Lasse Winther Jensen writes: “Nathan Thrall’s first book...is a rain of salvation in a severe draught. The book is written in a balanced, objective and fair register...The way Thrall describes the conflict is almost in itself enough to make the book an event, and it is no surprise that the book has already been the subject of much praise and attention. It is quite telling that the cover of Thrall’s book is adorned with enthusiastic blurbs from seemingly incompatible names such as the Palestinian-American professor Rashid Khalidi and former security adviser to George W. Bush, Elliott Abrams. However, The Only Language They Understand is to be commended for far more than Thrall’s balanced linguistic approach; the book’s theses and analyses are so great that any reader will have to take them seriously. ...one of the year’s most interesting, sober, original and thought-provoking contribution to the extensive literature on the Israel-Palestine conflict. ...impossible to ignore.”
In an address to the UN Security Council on the 50th anniversary of the 1967 war, Lakhdar Brahimi quoted extensively from a recent essay by Nathan Thrall in The New York Times.
In The Weekly Standard, Lee Smith talks to Nathan Thrall about his book, the use of force, and Trump, Abbas, and Netanyahu.
In Le Figaro, Cyrille Louis speaks to Nathan Thrall about his book.
On the 50th anniversary of the 1967 war, the Council on Foreign Relations invited Nathan Thrall and four other scholars to discuss how Israel, the Palestinian territories, and the Arab world were remade.
In Foreign Policy, Stephen M. Walt writes: “The idea that Saudi Arabia and other, moderate Arabs can convince the Palestinians to abandon their national aspirations and make peace with Israel is one of those perennial illusions that have hamstrung U.S. diplomacy for decades. As Nathan Thrall makes clear in his brilliant new book.”
In The Washington Post, Ishaan Tharoor speaks to Nathan Thrall about his new book, the sustainability of Israel’s occupation, whether Netanyahu is an ideologue, the possibility of renewed violence, and how Trump’s approach to Israel-Palestine could differ from Obama’s.
In Time, Karl Vick writes: “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. An American analyst with a severe allergy to conventional wisdom, Thrall has lived in Jerusalem since 2011, writing dense but rich reports for the International Crisis Group, and now The Only Language They Understand.”
In The New York Review of Books, David Shulman writes: “By far the most cogent of the new books, however, 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.”
In Foreign Affairs, Michael Koplow writes: “Thrall has consistently been one o the sharpest observers o the IsraeliPalestinian conflict and the United States’ role in trying to end it, and his most recent contribution, The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine, is true to form. ...The argument is a compelling one, and Thrall expertly marshals historical evidence to demonstrate his thesis that both sides respond to sticks rather than carrots. ...In focusing on the ways in which pressure has forced compromise, Thrall not only uses the historical record to great effect but also appeals to basic common sense. ...one cannot read The Only Language They Understand without acknowledging the power of his argument that force does indeed matter.”
In the Financial Times, John Reed writes: “Thrall, an analyst for the International Crisis Group who is one of the best-informed and most trenchant observers of the conflict, argues that in the past only coercion or outright force have been enough to move either side towards peace: ‘Faced with the threat of real losses-- whether human, economic, or political — Israelis and Palestinians have made dramatic concessions to avert them.’”
In The Independent, Donald Macintyre writes: “An important new book by Nathan Thrall, The Only Language They Understand, eloquently expresses what has long been clear: that there is no hope of a breakthrough unless the international community forces it on the parties.”
In The Times of Israel, Dan Rothem writes, “Nathan Thrall shows how embracing Israel does not ensure the coveted Israeli endorsement of parameters that are acceptable to the Palestinians. Rather, American leaders brought about Israeli-Arab agreements only through toughness and coercion. Kerry, in the best tradition of modern American negotiators, was too immersed in the Washington truism that Thrall eloquently debunks.”
In The Jerusalem Post, Glenn C. Altschuler writes: “Even the most ardent defenders of Israeli policies...should acknowledge Thrall’s mastery to facts on the ground, historical context and diplomatic tactics and strategies on all sides. ... Everyone interested in peace between Israelis and Palestinians will learn something and find something to ponder in this counter-intuitive, controversial and...compelling book.”
In Middle East Eye, Richard Silverstein writes: “In his new book, The Only Language They Understand, Nathan Thrall suggests a different approach: instead of blaming Israelis or Palestinians for the decades-long impasse, we in the West must look ourselves in the mirror.”
In Mondoweiss, Philip Weiss interviews Nathan Thrall about his “important new book.”
In The New York Times Book Review, Gal Beckerman writes of The Only Language They Understand: “Nathan Thrall does a brilliant job ...his argument is smart and hard to dispute.”
In Haaretz, Gideon Levy writes: “In a brilliant essay by the American intellectual Nathan Thrall that ... is excerpted from Thrall’s new book “The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine,” the author puts his finger on the root of all of the reasons that there is no peace.”
In Slate, Isaac Chotiner speaks to Nathan Thrall about The Only Language They Understand.
The Jewish Book Council published a review by Bob Goldfarb: “Readers of the New York Review of Books and other intellectual publications know Nathan Thrall to be one of the best-informed, most insightful, and least polemical analysts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The book’s title announces his bold conclusion: that the status quo will remain in place indefinitely unless the two sides are forced to change it—and no one is prepared to exert such force. ...The Only Language They Understand brings unparalleled clarity to the dynamics of Israeli-Palestinian relations, and is an essential guide to the history, personalities, and ideas behind the conflict.”
In Mediterranean Politics, Harvard University’s Alexei Abrahams writes: “With intimate knowledge of the conflict’s history, Thrall leads his readers through a remarkably even-handed tour of each diplomatic juncture since the 1950s to the end of 2016, showing convincingly that both Israelis and Palestinians have repeatedly compromised only in the face of credible threats ...Thrall masterfully synthesizes all of these facts and analyses into one consistent, compelling argument that coercion, not clever diplomatic maneuvers, drove all of the concessions on both sides. ...His analysis of Fayyadism’s collapse, the PA’s subsequent leadership paralysis, and the Obama administration’s failed diplomatic efforts is the best available for readers.”
Tablet Magazine’s reviewer, Joseph Dana, calls The Only Language They Understand “excellent” and writes: “Nathan Thrall, an analyst with the International Crisis Group and consummate observer of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, adds substantially to our understand of the status quo in his perfectly timed new volume ...Thrall argues that compromise has only come about when the sides are forced, often through violent means.”
Library Journal gives The Only Language They Understand a starred review: “Highly recommended for readers familiar with the headlines on this issue who want a deeper and more detailed understanding.”
Vice Magazine’s reviewer, Noah Kulwin, calls The Only Language They Understand “excellent” and Vice names it one of the best books of the month: “Thrall makes a persuasive case that instead of leaving the Israelis and Palestinians alone or limply warning of the peril facing Israeli democracy if a two-state solution isn’t achieved, the only weapon in the US arsenal that has ever produced meaningful gains on the issue is force—diplomatic, economic, or otherwise.”
Palestine Square, published by The Institute for Palestine Studies, names The Only Language They Understand one of five books to read this spring. Khelil Bouarrouj writes: “Thrall’s mastery of detail and brevity makes him one of the most astute commentators on the subject. ...Thrall smashes one ... orthodoxy after another with lucid precision and logic.”
Kirkus Reviews calls The Only Language They Understand “a troubling and truculent history of the still-stalemated search for peace in the Middle East. ...An assiduous assault on the management of the apparently defunct peace process that has eluded Israel and Palestine.”
Kirkus calls The Only Language They Understand “An assiduous assault on the management of the apparently defunct peace process that has eluded Israel and Palestine," and "a troubling and truculent history of the still-stalemated search for peace in the Middle East.”
In a preview of upcoming nonfiction, Library Journal writes: “Change has come not through negotiation and state-building but upheaval, from boycotts and civil disobedience to outsider-imposed resolutions and, alas, violence. Where does that leave us? Perhaps with a model for moving forward.”