Review: The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine

The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine by Nathan Thrall

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program (in exchange for an honest review)

REVIEW: When undertaking the negotiations of, or simply reading about, the long-standing Arab-Israeli conflict, everyone becomes aware of how influences within and beyond the borders of the Middle East become a party to the issue. “The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine by Nathan Thrall, investigates the dynamics of these relationships and how they influence outcomes. His thesis establishes the element of force as core to achieving change, regardless of country and/or organization. “Compromise on each side has been driven less by the promise of peace than the aversion of pain…not limited to bloodshed. Economic sanctions, boycotts, threats, unarmed protests, and other forms of confrontation have been just as important in bringing about ideological concessions and territorial withdrawals. “Force” in this broader sense has, sadly, proved the only language “they” understand” (2).

Mr. Thrall explained the suppressive aspect(s) of the Oslo Accords, despite not being viewed that way by international courts because “the agreements” maintained a status quo. He made the reader think differently about the Camp David Accords, the Oslo Accords, Madrid Conference of 1991 and other related conference outcomes. I had viewed them as a tremendous amount of beneficial progress toward peace in the Middle East–especially after reading “The Path to Geneva: The Quest for a Permanent Solution, 1996-2003,” by Yossi Beilin. At the time of Beilin’s work, great achievements were made; but, in the long-run, it looked like situations eroded. To truly understand the making of each stage of agreements, readers needed more knowledge of the context, language, and time-frame in which the agreements were reached, and Nathan Thrall did an excellent job of covering those details along with some over-arching themes in support of his thesis:

*Intifadas, wars, terrorism, and other aggressions.
*Exporting the Holocaust to the Palestine Mandate.
*Zionism and the diaspora.
*Revisionist history and racism.
*Corruption.
*Frameworks for peace and statehood.
*Foreign powers and positioning.
*Decision making processes: short-term versus long-term reality.
*Periphery Doctrine effectivity.
*Collaborations between Palestinians and Israelis.
*America’s role the in the peace process: mediator or trouble-maker?

The author made it easy to recognize how themes played out repeatedly and ultimately existed as a form of force. He also made the reader ponder intelligent, though likely unpopular and uncomfortable, questions: Would the diaspora have survived without a separate Jewish state? Who truly had the right to promise Palestine to the Jewish people? Did America need to be involved in this peace process? Did the parties squander their opportunities to reach a two-state solution? Did some of the Palestinian leadership carry responsibility for continued nationlessness and some of the harm to their people? Was the author pro-Israel or in favor of the Palestinians? Ultimately, there was no denying that the author did a phenomenal job in supporting his thesis while writing a very interesting, fact-filled, thought-provoking book. Nathan Thrall’s “ The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine ” enveloped a highly-recommendable read that earned a well-deserved five-star rating.

Review: Lenin on the Train: The Journey that Changed the Course of History

cvr_lenin-on-the-train-the-journey-that-changed-the-course-of-history-by-catherine-merridaleLenin on the Train: The Journey that Changed the Course of History by Catherine Merridale

MY RATING: 2/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy from Library Thing Early Reviewers Program (in exchange for an honest review)

REVIEW: Author Catherine Merridale became known for authoring several works involving Russian history. “Lenin on the Train: The Journey that Changed the Course of History” became her newest book. Its basis relied upon the premise that the author travelled the same train tour as V.I. Lenin did to give his speeches and rally followers for revolution. “In April 1917, at the height of the First World War, the exiled leader of the Bolsheviks, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, travelled back to Russia by train” (5); he had developed himself into a revolutionary with the intension of transforming the government via appealing to class struggle.

Merridale wasted no time getting to the rail station in order to begin Lenin’ s tour. But the pre-history would have better developed the story, properly setting the stage for what happened next. She rushed past the 1905 “Bloody Sunday” event, thereby downplaying its significance in the lead-up to the 1917 Revolution. I wished that she had delved into Rasputin’s power over the royal family, coupled with their excesses and assassination(s).  The author adeptly covered the effect of WWI on the country, and this was undoubtedly an incredibly important factor in understanding the mindset of many Russians.  From the impoverished to the bourgeoisie, and up through to royalty, Lenin also achieved a comprehensive understanding of the Russian mindset, which proved valuable in allowing him to develop highly-targeted speeches as his trip progressed.

Lenin on the Train” provided an in-depth approach, or micro-historical account, of a vital facet to the 1917 Russian Revolution. “For almost every socialist who witnessed it, what was happening in February 1917 was a march towards democracy and liberal reform” (225). “Socialism, which required the people take control of everything from economic life to war and peace, was not thought to be possible in a land of boorish peasants. In private, moreover, a good many socialists in Petrograd had been more than a little terrified of responsibility in any form” (225). Merridale’s work delved into these challenged and many others in a manner that reflected her thorough understanding of that historical era. My favorite components of her book that reflected her in-depth knowledge existed as follows:

1. The V.I. Lenin quotes set the tone for each chapter.
2. Notes regarding Russia’s calendar compared to that of Europe enabled the reader to understand travel time and date complexities.
3. A detailed map tracing Lenin’s train route created an additional way to engage the reader.
4. Details pertaining to the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, coupled with threats to the revolution, increased the story’s depth.
5. Stories of Germany’s and Britain’s influence increased the sense of international intrigue.
6. Feuds between Lenin and others demonstrated that his mission did not become easily achieved.

While the aforementioned numbered points served as my favorite aspects of the book, overall I experienced struggles in reading the compendium. There was a lot of back-and-forth in time, that I did not find to be respective to the calendar issue cited in the author’s “Notes on Text.” The dates seemed like they were thrown around without respect to a clearly delineated timeline. Dialectology challenges caused the writer’s style to come across as clunky, stuffy, and dry. Expression not typically encountered in the United States compounded these issues, for example:
1. The happy fortune of that lot must have made Switzerland seem more than ever like the white wolf’s wretched cage” (134). 
2. “Lenin had worked up an appetite, and back in the Regina’s dining room he tucked into a steak…” (197)

Additionally, I found that transitions between paragraphs seemed rough, while sentences within them did not always belong together. Unfortunately, despite the author’s delivery on her promises and demonstrated subject matter knowledge, I ultimately found this book to be difficult to enjoy and finish.