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With His Head In the Sand

Review of the book, The Two-State Delusion,

Author: Padraig O’Malley

Redacted from a review by Matti Friedman
Wall Street Journal
Aug. 10, 2015

… In “The Two-State Delusion,” Padraig O’Malley has given us an account of his own time in this familiar landscape. As the title suggests, the author believes the idea of two states is not realistic. He’s right, and in reaching this sad conclusion he joins most of us locals, Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Since the collapse of peace talks 15 years ago and the violence of the Second Intifada, the idea of a two-state solution has existed mainly thanks to the Oz-like pyrotechnics of Western diplomats and journalists, aided by Israeli and Palestinian politicians trying to keep the foreigners happy and their money flowing. What little hope remained a few years ago has now been quashed by the Middle Eastern nightmare—carnage in Syria, chaos in Iraq, ISIS in Sinai—unfolding a short drive from our homes.

Mr. O’Malley dedicates most of his book to describing each side’s psychology and weighing its claims. He diagnoses both groups as “addicted” to conflict. Israelis are “obsessive” in their pursuit of security. They also suffer from “exceptionalism and paranoia.” The Palestinians have been so downtrodden that many of his West Bank interviewees struck him as “intellectually depleted.” He writes that “post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is rife in both societies and with it the socio-psychological convulsions it generates.”

Mr. O’Malley, a professor in Boston whose previous work has focused on conflict resolution in South Africa and his native Ireland, lacks an intimate acquaintance with this place and does remarkably little to conceal his disdain for everyone who lives here. Palestinians are not mentally deficient. Neither are Israelis. This hardly seems a way to make progress on a complicated problem.

(As a matter of fact, I really could not imagine how a guy with the name Padraig O’Malley, could claim to be an expert on Israeli/Palestinian relations? But then I remembered the absolute hubris (chutzpah) of academia wherein they spend years accumulating a whole bunch of inconsequential and frequently unrelated facts and then create some sort of politically correct PhD treatise to impress their  egg-head professors.  And, with this receptive self perpetuating jury, the applicant has his expertise certified thus enabling a grossly overpaid salary and tenure within the educational racket, not remotely possible in the real world.  But, enough of my educational racket sermon. Besides, in this case, Professor O’Malley, despite his suspect heritage, confused facts and all the wrong reasons, came to the right conclusion) jsk

More work should have gone into ensuring accuracy. The author asserts, for example, that Israel’s military victory in 1967 resulted from “massive U.S. assistance,” when there wasn’t massive U.S. military assistance before 1967. (France was then the main arms supplier; the planes that won the war were Mirages and Mystères.)

We learn that Ariel Sharon was an agriculture minister in 1971 and that this has something to do with the genesis of the settlements; he wasn’t, and it doesn’t. The author describes Israeli soldiers carrying their Uzis “nonchalantly,” which is a nice touch. But no Israeli soldiers carry the Uzi, which was deemed obsolete after the 1973 war and removed from frontline service after that. The word “homeland” is quoted pointedly from the Balfour Declaration of 1917, where that word doesn’t appear. Would it have been too much trouble to check the text? It’s a single sentence.

The “bonding, primal element” of the Jewish psyche, we learn, is the Holocaust. Israelis are in thrall to weapons because of the Holocaust; they are obtuse to the suffering of others because of the Holocaust; and in general they are sort of crazy because of the Holocaust.

Actually, half of the Jewish population in Israel has roots in the Islamic world. Their families were displaced by Muslims, not Nazis. Israelis think many of their neighbors are out to destroy Israel not because of the Holocaust, but because many of their neighbors say they are out to destroy Israel. Israel’s actions in the Middle East, in other words, have to do with its experience in the Middle East. The country’s objective success against long odds would have to indicate that at least some of its decisions have been reality-based, if not quite reasonable.

The idea that a collective memory renders Jewish judgment defective seems to be something acceptable to say aloud these days in connection with Israel, which is why I’ve dwelled on it. It’s important to point out not only that this observation is wrong, but that it is a patronizing ethnic smear. I don’t like the careless generalizations in Mr. O’Malley’s book or his shaky grasp of the facts. But I don’t think they have anything to do with the potato famine.

One would expect an exercise in conflict resolution to end with a few suggestions on resolving the conflict. Friends of the author who read the manuscript shared this expectation, we learn, and wondered about the absence of constructive ideas. If not two states then what? “But why should I be so presumptuous as to dare provide a vision for people who refuse to provide one for themselves, not just in the here and now, but in the future too?” he replies. “For people who have no faith in the possible? Who themselves believe the conflict will take generations to resolve? Who are content to live their hatreds? Who are so resolutely opposed to the slightest gesture of accommodation? Who revel in their mutual pettiness?”

On behalf of my Holocaust-addled, Uzi-wielding countrymen and—if I may—on behalf of our intellectually depleted neighbors, I would like to express gratitude for being led to common ground: our mutual pettiness.

“The Two-State Delusion” illustrates a strange aspect of our current intellectual moment: At a time when the Middle East has achieved a truly surreal level of awfulness, many in the West have become even more acutely fixated on the Jewish minority enclave in one corner of the region. The death toll in Syria alone in four years is more than double the Israel-Arab death toll in a century. That being the case, it should be clear that believing Israel’s conflict to be the most important in the Middle East is, and always has been, a delusion—one that unconsciously underpins this treatise about the delusions of others.

A reader of this book could be excused for thinking the implosion of the entire region is mainly an irritant in the Israeli-Palestinian affair. It all feels a bit like a sermon about an intricate labor dispute in the cafeteria of the Hindenburg.

(And, the book itself, is a prime example of what the sophisticated British aptly call,  “Rubbish”) jsk

Mr. Friedman is the author of “The Aleppo Codex.”

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