What is Giving Compass?
We connect donors to learning resources and ways to support community-led solutions. Learn more about us.
Nathan Thrall is a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, where he focuses on the Arab-Israeli conflict. A frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books, Thrall has also written for Commentary, which is to say he’s a writer who specializes in upsetting expectations. His first book, The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine, turns conventional thinking about the peace process and the contemporary foreign policy wisdom that undergirds it on its head. Eruptions of violence, Thrall argues, haven’t thwarted the chances of peace—rather, it’s only force that has compelled either side to make compromises. Maybe the road to peace goes through war.
In the book I define force as any form of pressure that threatens significant costs: not just violence but economic sanctions, unarmed protests, civil disobedience, and severe diplomatic coercion, such as the threat to withhold aid, impose a settlement in the U.N. Security Council, or downgrade relations. At various points throughout the Arab-Israeli conflict, each of these has compelled concessions on both sides. In Washington, what is perceived as tough talk—for example, the State Department “condemning” settlement construction rather than describing it as “unhelpful”—is frequently mistaken for pressure or even force. But if the party toward whom Washington directs such words does not see any significant cost emanating from them—and that is definitely the case in the example above—then it hardly constitutes coercion or the use of force, broadly defined.
Given the bipartisan consensus around how to conduct the peace process—namely, holding lots of meetings, putting out lots of carrots, and avoiding sticks—the chances for any administration are very low. What you can say about Trump is that his willingness to ignore the bipartisan consensus on a number of issues offers at least the possibility—though far from the probability—that he could try a radically different approach than the one that is guaranteed to fail.
Trump is a wildly unpredictable figure, but for the time being at least he has made Israeli-Palestinian peace a priority of his administration, and one would think that his well-documented desire for personal glory is a powerful motivator.