Critical Review: “The Two-State Delusion, Israel and Palestine, A Tale of Two Narratives” by Padraig O’Malley
By Bernard Pelletier (Program Director, Critical Connections)
Padraig O’Malley, the author of “The Two State Delusion”, is no stranger to intractable conflicts. He was a key participant in ending the centuries long strife between Catholic and Protestant Ireland. From there he turned his attention to South Africa documenting the transition from apartheid to freedom.
In his latest book he examines the decades-long struggle to implement a two-state solution to the Israeli – Palestinian crisis. He interviews hundreds of Israelis, Palestinians and Americans at all levels of knowledge and connection to the conflict. As O’Malley’s research progresses, it becomes clear to him that the two-state solution – as it is now being negotiated and structured – is slipping ever further from the parties seeking it. Each passing day makes it less likely that such a solution could be achieved. Among the reasons that are discussed:
- The complete breakdown of trust and respect between the two parties impacts the negotiation process itself, as well as the view of what is possible.
- The expansion of settlements has eroded trust and has so divided the Palestinian territory that a contiguous state is virtually impossible. The close, unsupervised contact between settlers and Palestinians keeps the flame of anger burning brightly.
- As settlements and settlers grow in magnitude, relocation becomes a huge and growing task, making the prospects of a state increasingly difficult.
- Fundamentalist factions amongst the Palestinians and the Israelis pursue diametrically opposed agendas while making the middle ground (politically speaking) almost uninhabitable. The force wielded by these minorities far exceeds their proportional representation in the population.
- The asymmetry of the power between the two parties diminishes Israel’s motivation to pursue a two-state solution – in effect there is little benefit to Israel to conclude a settlement at this point.
- As adjudged by the U.N, the economic viability of an independent Palestinian state is undermined by debt, unemployment, war-ravaged infrastructure, and an Israeli stranglehold on flows of goods (in and out). Indeed, O’Malley notes that even if, miraculously, a two-state solution emerged, the burden of rebuilding and relocating peoples might well break even a healthy economy.
- Even though the population growth of Palestinians vs. Israelis is viewed as a force towards Israel encouraging a two-state solution (to preserve its Jewish identity) – the deeper look at where Israel’s population is growing – amongst the settlers and the ultra-orthodox – effectively means that Israel will tilt more and more away from two states and towards the re-creation of its biblical vision.
The author concludes that if the “home run” (a two-state solution) cannot not be achieved, negotiations that focused solely on that goal actually deepened the divide between the parties with each successive failure.
O’ Malley discusses how the Israeli and the Palestinians have each taken their history and developed a narrative that shapes their view of each other, the future, and what is possible in a negotiation. The power of this narrative is so strong that it has become self-reinforcing. Israel’s legitimate need for security has morphed into a program of occupation, abuse, and ghettoization. The Palestinians’ ongoing humiliation has both broken their spirit and turned them into the very fractured and dangerous people that the Israelis have come to fear.
Indeed the circle of Palestinian violence, followed by punitive Israeli reaction, leading to more humiliation has become, according to O’Malley, an addictive process. Likewise the negotiation process has developed it’s own pattern of hope and despair. The Palestinian and Israeli negotiators, along with the American brokers, have devolved into familiar and stylized roles. O’Malley outlines failures at all levels of the negotiation process.
Even as trust – the sin quo non – of any negotiation has deteriorated over the decades with each failure of negotiation, each cycle of violence, and each instance of repression the significant issues of refugees, climate change, settlements, and demographics have become more challenging.
O’Malley quotes Tal Becker – “It can never be forgotten that these negotiations are between two traumatized and therefore distrustful people” – and this is perhaps the most succinct possible summary of why this conflict is so intractable and why it has remained unsolved for so many decades.
By the end of the book the reader is hungry for – the “answer”. So convincing is O’Malley that we the readers come to believe that indeed the current course of diplomacy is staggering down the wrong path. But O’Malley challenges us, and most significantly the parties in the process, to accept the futility of business as usual and come up with their own alternatives–rather than pursue the impossible, seek a goal that improves matters. O’Malley hints at the need to reduce institutionalized reinforcement of the narratives each has developed and suggests that perhaps a “hudna” (Arabic for ceasefire) with a long duration might set the stage for constructive steps.
To all of us involved with Critical Connections this book offers a fresh, research- based diagnosis of the most intractable and harmful conflict of our age. It is well worth our thorough review and critical inspection. Only by understanding where we are – “Facing the Truth” – can we hope with reason to move forward to a better relationship between the two peoples.