Hope must lie with the children of Israel/Palestine

Professor Padraig O'MALLEY, The Two-State Delusion: Israel and Palestine, Queen's University Belfast, Northern Ireland. @ISCTSJ @MoakleyChairUMB

Professor Padraig O’MALLEY, The Two-State Delusion: Israel and Palestine, Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland. @ISCTSJ @MoakleyChairUMB

Hope must lie with the children of Israel/Palestine: Professor Padraig O’Malley talk at Queen’s University Belfast
by Allan Leonard for Northern Ireland Foundation
21 October 2015

Professor Padraig O’Malley gave a bleak prognosis of the Israel/Palestine peace negotiations, calling the two-state proposal ‘delusional’.

At an event hosted by the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice (ISCTSJ) at Queen’s University Belfast, Prof. O’Malley shared his insights into the psychological and structural complexities of peace making in that part of the Middle East, to an audience of 50 in the Old Staff Common Room.

Drawing upon his research for his recently published book, The Two-State Delusion: Israel and Palestine — A Tale of Two Narratives, Prof. O’Malley made his case under five headings:

  1. The passage of time (since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and even before)
  2. The facts on the ground
  3. The facts in the minds
  4. A new set of demographic changes
  5. The changed geopolitical landscape in the Middle East

Yet he said that the biggest obstacle to peace is that neither side had educated or united its community, to what a peace deal would entail.

Prof. O’Malley also mentioned the lack of transformative leadership within Israel/Palestine — the inability for current leadership to be responsive to changing demands as negotiations progress.

An even deeper problem is psychological: polls show an ever decreasing public belief in a future of Israelis and Palestinians even being able to live besides one another.

Prof. O’Malley describes how this abetted by a cyclical addition to war, which begets failure, which begets further grievances, which begets more war.

He called for inclusive negotiations, with Hamas, and for the Israeli Government to drop its insistence for decommissioning as a prerequisite for negotiations.

Prof. O’Malley explained how this precondition is a nonsense, with there being no one able to verify the quantity of arms held or their decommissioning, unlike the way this issue was managed in Northern Ireland.

Anyway, he continued, Hamas (or any other Palestinian group) could reacquire a large amount of significant weaponry almost immediately.

Within Palestinian politics, Prof. O’Malley described the relationship between the more theologically-driven Hamas block and the secular-oriented Fatah group (which is currently in power and feted by the international community).

“The reality is that they are rivals,” said Prof. O’Malley, giving examples of and inter- and intra-group contests for power.

The Israeli Government’s complete lack of trust was explained with a quotation from a high-ranking official: “They have to convince us that they are not a threat to our existence.”

Furthermore, Prof. O’Malley gave two challenges for peace:

  1. Young Israelis moving farther to the right, e.g. many preferring to be more ‘Jewish’ than ‘democratic’
  2. An agreement on settlements would be very difficult to implement, with Israel Defence Forces being called upon to physically remove their own citizens (Prof. O’Malley compared the 1914 Curragh incident in Ireland, when the British Government contemplated using force against those (especially Ulster Volunteer Force) who would not implement the Home Rule agreement; the British Army threatened mutiny, prompting the Government to consider (and implement) the geopolitical partitioning of Ireland).

Prof. O’Malley’s blunt conclusion is that currently there is neither the will nor adequate leadership to negotiate for peace.

For him, the situation is so bleak that even pacifist groups — both Palestinian and Israeli — have told him that perhaps only a large scale war will provoke a serious intervention by the international community.

Prof. O’Malley also described the systematic humiliation that ordinary Palestinians suffer from Israeli police and security forces, and a consequential belief that Israel won’t change its mindset until they feel the pain that Palestinians have felt.

But both societies are living in a state of trauma — he explained — with Israeli Jews crystallising their identity from the Holocaust, and Palestinians from the 1948 Nakba; both sources of identity are loss.

Professor O’Malley finished with some personal remarks:

“My sympathies are on both sides.

“My belief is that the occupation must end.

“Palestinians want their dignity back; their humiliation must stop.

“That demand for dignity has to find an outlet, at some point. And this is how a suicide bomber justifies killing himself, as an act of affirming humanity.”

During the subsequent question and answer session, Prof. Monica McWilliams replied to the pacifists’ apparent call for war, with a quotation that violence is the absence of creativity.

She agreed with Prof. O’Malley on the point that the international community has been collectively woeful in regards to Israel/Palestine, but highlighted the symbolic value that the Palestinian State has at the United Nations, as well as private efforts, such as the BDS movement (boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel).

Prof. O’Malley acknowledged that the boycott movement was very effective in ending Apartheid in South Africa, but Israel has an alternative of approaching Russia for increased trade.

We worked hard to end the session with a message of hope.

Prof. O’Malley’s initial response to this question was hope with a lot of pain:

“Hope lies in the fact that in the near future, the situation will become explosive.

“And when that happens, don’t go back to the two-state proposal, but start from where you will be.”

The cliché, “hope lies with the children”, was suggested.

But here, Prof. O’Malley suggested changing the school textbooks in Israel/Palestine: “The books are getting worse not better!”

He described the work of a group of Israeli and Palestinian teachers, who came together in 2000 to try to ‘disarm’ the teaching of the Middle East; the result is a ‘dual narrative’ history, Side by Side.

So while the current form of negotiations may be delusional — the repeat pursuit of  a failed predefined outcome — starting a conversation with children (and their parents) may be a more peaceful path to peace.


Professor Padraig O’Malley thanks ISCTSJ and Queen’s University Belfast for the organisation and opportunity provided by the event.


Professor Padraig O’Malley is the John Joseph Moakley Chair of Peace and Reconciliation at the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

The Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice was established in 2012, to facilitate sustained interdisciplinary collaboration in research and teaching and to provide strategic focus to support world class research.

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  • While I mostly agree with the views presented by Professor O’Malley there is another alternative that would stop this conflict tomorrow and help to prevent more planes flown into buildings, and that is for the United States to end its craven and immoral support for Israeli Apartheid.

    People will shrug over more war. Palestine and Israel is in the news everyday.

    But when Uncle Sam finally tires of innocent Palestinians women and children merely on their own land being killed by weaponry and munitions that say Made in the USA on them, our country is complicit in this crime against humanity.

  • tmitch57

    As the author of another book on conflict resolution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict I read with interest most of O’Malley’s book once it appeared this summer. There have now been at least four different books that reached a similar conclusion from slightly different but converging lines of argument. I argued from the point of view of Israeli electoral politics, Palestinian politics and even American electoral politics. Israeli historian Benny Morris argued from the point of the refugee question, the split within Palestinian politics between Fatah and Hamas, and the ambiguities about a two-state solution both within the Likud and Fatah. Israeli political scientist Ami Pedahzur argued on the basis of the control within coalition governments exercised by settler politicians from the Israeli radical right and the ability of settlers to prevent the implementation of a settlement on the ground. I also argued that the internal dynamics within the Republic of Ireland that allowed for overwhelming support for the abandonment of the Republic’s constitutional claim to Northern Ireland are simply not present in Palestine with its society becoming more religious rather than more secular as occurred in the Republic in the 1990s. I also argued that the pressures that combined to persuade the National Party to give up its control of Namibia in the late 1980s in exchange for the removal of Cuban troops from Angola are not present today in the Middle East to persuade Israeli leaders to relinquish control of the West Bank.

  • Greenflag 2

    Excellent piece by Professor O’Malley re the sad reality of the Israeli Palestine never ending conflict . I’ve not read this book but I have read his book on the Northern Ireland conflict published as far back as 1983 – i.e 32 years ago . The Uncivil War – Ireland Today – I still pick it up occasionally and large tracts of it could be re written today with merely name and party /acronym changes . By far the most comprehensive analysis of the Northern Ireland tragedy yet written was the Belfast Newsletter blurb at the time – I would still recommend it to all current politicians and those on the fringes of politics in Northern Ireland if for nothing else then to see how far NI has come along the road to if not an absolutely secure political future yet then at least much closer to a situation where a major tribal war between both communities is no longer considered as being even a remote possibility . NI is not there yet .

    The last 5 to ten minutes of Prof O’Malley’s audio above are probably of most relevance for those still engaged in finding a more permanent solution to the NI never ending story .

    Some thoughts

    “Hope lies in the fact that in the near future, the situation will become explosive.

    Here it seems that the only answer to the all the wars of the past between Israel and the Arabs is another preferably larger war in which a lot more Israelis are killed so that a new paradigm can emerge and a peaceful political solution be found . This is an update in this ‘nuclear age ‘ to the WW1 call to arms to the masses of the then combatant nations to enlist in the ‘War to End all Wars ” We know in hindsight that instead the end of WW1 just created the conditions for the outbreak of WW1 part 2 – 20 year later . Northern Ireland , Israel and North Korea and other states I’m sure owe their origin to earlier wars. A Northern Ireland State was not what Unionists in Ireland (32 counties ) wanted in 1918 or in 1912 . Israel probably would not have become the state it is today had there been no Nazi Germany which in turn would not have existed had there been no WW1 . North Korea emerged from a reluctance by then American Government to fight a major land war on Chinese territory . Britain did’nt want an Israeli State in the region but by 1948 Britain was war weary , almost bankrupt and unwilling to wage total war against Irgun .

    But we are where we are – NI exists as a democracy in training – Israel exists but is losing support internationally particularly in Europe in France and Germany but even in the USA among many American Jews , North Korea has become a kleptocratic hereditary dictatorship which survives only because China continues to support them.

    “And when that happens, don’t go back to the two-state proposal, but start from where you will be.”

    Given that Israel has an estimated 200 nuclear weapons then any conventional war by surrounding states against Israel could particularly if an anti Israeli alliance made inroads across Israels borders in a unilateral nuclear attack on Israel’s enemies . In that event the region Palestine /Israel /Middle East will not be starting from anywhere except the stone age. Unthinkable ? Americans should read up on General Curtis Le May’s enthusiasm to loose Armageddon on both Cuba and the Soviet Union in the 1962 missile crisis.

    ‘The cliché, “hope lies with the children”, was suggested.’

    There may be nothing left for the children of all sides at that point . Or anybody else either .

    Professor O’Malley’s talk on the subject hopefully will be read by all sides in the the region . People in NI may have reduced in their minds eye the Israeli /Palestine struggle as being somehow just a mirror image of their local conflict .
    The similarities are there but the consequences for the planet are far greater in the Middle East .

  • Greenflag 2

    : I also argued that the internal dynamics within the Republic of Ireland that allowed for overwhelming support for the abandonment of the Republic’s constitutional claim to Northern Ireland are simply not present in Palestine with its society becoming more religious rather than more secular ”

    Ditto for within Israel where the ultra religious Orthodox population has increased and the number of more secular Israelis has declined at least in relative terms .
    Israel will eventually have to decide between being a Jewish State or a Democratic State . Despite being the most democratic of all states in the Middle East region today it risks becoming a pariah state . From Prof O’Malley’s audio above it would appear that the younger Israelis would prefer a Jewish State even if it costs them their ‘democracy . Shades of the German experience 1933 when they were faced with political stability under the nazis or continued democratic ‘chaos ‘ .

    The rise of the GOP in the southern states of the USA in the 1980’s under Reagan was also a reaction to what was seen as the chaos set off by the Civil Rights struggle . The rightward drift continues in the USA with Tea Party and the Freedom Caucus and the country more polarised than at any time since 1861 .

  • Greenflag 2

    :there is another alternative that would stop this conflict tomorrow :

    President Carter he of the Camp David Agreement between Israel and Egypt has I think been the only American President who has spoken out and written about the actuality of Apartheid in Israel . Although many Presidents have stated that there has to be a 2 state solution -none have done anything to advance that solution in practical terms . As you say weapons and munitions etc are still sold to Israel -not just by the USA but by the UK , Germany and France .

    As to Uncle Sam finally tiring etc etc . I would’nt bet on it . Uncle Sam’s weaponry manages to kill some 35,000 Americans every year n the USA which is several times the number killed in Israel /Palestine and 10 times the total killed in Northern Ireland’s ‘troubles ” 1969-1998″.

    The best hope is for the USA public to hear the other side i.e the Palestinian and while that side is heard in Europe with more sympathy Americans are still in post 9/11 trauma with the Arab World and thus Israel can do no wrong . Unfortunately Israel can and does on a regular basis and the excuse is self defense which can’t be totally ignored either . The Israelis are not going to suffer another holocaust . The question is and Professor O’Malley’s piece above outlines the practicalities of establishing a two state solution are less practicable than they were a decade ago or twenty years ago . Israel may have left it too late to avoid another war which even if they win assuming no use of nuclear arms – they are merely postponing the inevitable and kicking the can/solution down the road for their children and grandchildren to resolve . But long before then the people who have nothing to lose now will have even less to lose then and extremism begets it’s own response and the cycle ever rises until not a stone is left upon a stone .

    Here are a couple of chapter heading quotes from Prof O’Malley’s ‘Uncivil War” Ireland today -written in the early 1980’s .

    “If you madden the people it is impossible to calculate the the strength of insanity ‘ ( Considerations of the State of Ireland ) Whitehall Diary Vol 3

    ‘Many talk about solution to Northern Ireland’s political problem but few are prepared to say what the problem is . The reason is simple . The problem is that there is no solution .” Richard Rose (American Political scientist )

    I disagree with the latter quote although I can understand from where the sentiment arises . I agree with the first quote as it has been seen again and again throughout history . From Wat Tyler and Simon De Montfort through to the French , American and Russian revolutions to whats happening in Palestine , Gaza and Iraq /Syria etc today .

  • tmitch57

    The ultra-Orthodox are mainly a drain on the country’s economy as they are a shnorer class who let the women support the families while working unskilled jobs while the men study Torah all day. The party’s then subsidize them by extracting state funds and using them to subsidize the religious seminaries (yeshivot). But it is mainly the religious Zionists who are the more serious threat to both the peace process and democracy. Democracy has to evolve over centuries to be really viable and ingrained. Better than 95% of the Jewish immigrants to mandatory and Ottoman Palestine came from countries that were not democracies at the time of their departure or, in the cases of Germany and Czechoslovakia, where democracy was rapidly failing. Those from the collective settlements affiliated with Mapai/Labor Party eventually developed good democratic habits and the most democratic were the German-speaking Jews from Central Europe and English-speaking Jews from Anglophone western countries.

  • tmitch57

    “Ditto for within Israel where…”

    In the book I deliberately compared the Republic of Ireland’s experience with the Palestinians and Israel’s with South Africa’s in Namibia because the process of giving up a claim to territory that one doesn’t physically possess is different from that of giving up territory that one does control. Usually the former is easier.

  • tmitch57

    “President Carter he of the Camp David Agreement between Israel and Egypt
    has I think been the only American President who has spoken out and
    written about the actuality of Apartheid in Israel .”

    Carter stated in numerous interviews that the reference to apartheid in the title of one of his books applied only to the Palestinian territories and not to what is legally recognized as Israel abroad as Palestinians have the vote within Israel.

  • Greenflag 2

    True . In the case of West Germany they never made a fuss over reuniting the country East and West . They just waited for the wall to fall down . It worked in their case . Scared the daylights out of me at the time . Fortunately Mr Gorbachev and most Western leaders managed /agreed the transition and Yeltsin later survived a coup attempt by Soviet revanchists . And more importantly the world avoided a thermonuclear exchange .

    While there are similarities every case is also unique . It would require oracular traits of an advanced degree to predict the time and date of North Korea’s future demise ditto for NI .

  • Greenflag 2

    “as they are a shnorer class who let the women support the families while working unskilled jobs while the men study Torah all day.’

    Now numerically more significant given their much higher birth rate I read somewhere . I assume the schnorrers vote ?

    ‘ Democracy has to evolve over centuries to be really viable and ingrained’

    That would be an understanding gleaned from British , French or American experience . The German and Austro Hungarian experience was more truncated given the historical fragmentation prior to 1870 of the former and the multi ethnic polyglot Habsburg Empire where an Austrian minority tried to maintain say over irredentist Hungarians and seven or more other emerging nationalities . Austria might have become a European ‘USA ‘ had WW1 not intervened and Ireland might never have experienced Partition – Israel might not have been resurrected and neither Hitler nor Stalin might ever have come to power to wreak insanity on the world ?

    We hang by a thread – all of us 😉

  • Greenflag 2

    Yes he got a fair amount of flak from the American Israel lobby on that score . Current Israeli leadership is fast losing support around the western world and probably would lose it faster were it not for the chaos already widespread over most of the Middle East region.

    South Africa’s apartheid did not end because of western boycotts . It ended because of boycotts within South Africa by the majority population and by some of the minority . And by the reality which finally dawned on most of the minority that apartheid was both a farce and non sustainable . South Africa was lucky to have Nelson Mandela and De Klerk representing the main camps and also lucky to have an imploding Soviet Union as an example of a road not to follow .

    Israel and Palestine have been going down the same road since 1948 and 1967 and now find themselves in a cul de sac . To get out of a cul de sac -reversal and/or turnaround if possible is required.

  • tmitch57

    “I assume the schnorrers vote ?”

    They vote for whomever their rabbis tell them to vote for: Agudat Israel or United Torah Judaism, etc. The ultra-Orthodox were a relatively significant portion of the Israeli population in 1948, which is why Ben-Gurion was generous about giving draft exemptions for some ultra-Orthodox men and for all of their women. They are now I believe about 10 percent of the population and growing. The two fastest growing segments of the Israeli population are both non-Zionist: Palestinians and the ultra-Orthodox.

    “Austria might have become a European ‘USA ‘ had WW1 not intervened…”

    Central Europe was much more ready for democracy than Eastern Europe, but even the first experiments in mass democracy in both Germany and Austria failed. Germany because of the Great Depression that brought the Nazis to power and Austria because the vast majority of its population opted for anschluss with Germany rather than for democracy in a small democratic Austria. A-H would have needed to have developed into a Triple Monarchy with the Slavs represented on equal terms with the Germans and the Magyars This would have been difficult because of rivalries among the different Slav nationalities: Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenians, Serbs, Croats, and Ruthenians. Germany had a much simpler task with a relatively cohesive ethnic majority and no major ethnic minorities to speak of–Jews were about one percent of the population and completely culturely-assimilated. Germans also had decades of experience with free elections and a real parliament before Weimar, even if the kaiser was not answerable to it. This is why the Iranians have a big advantage over the Arabs in transforming themselves into a democracy in the future.

  • tmitch57

    “I would’nt bet on it . Uncle Sam’s weaponry manages to kill some 35,000 Americans every year n the USA…”

    If the reference here is to those killed every year by gun violence these are not “Uncle Sam’s” i.e. U.S. weapons but rather privately- owned weapons. Even the number killed each year by municipal and states/federal agents is a small fraction of this number.

  • Greenflag 2

    ‘They vote for whomever their rabbis tell them to vote for:’

    Not too dissimilar then from the Irish Republic in the 1950’s and even in rural areas up to the 1980’s . The RC clergy did’nt tell . They did’nt have to tell . At the hustings outside churches when competing politicians were vying for support from the after mass crowd -all eyes were on which of the candidates the priest would talk to the longest . Usually it was the FG or FF candidate with the Labour candidate being given a curt nod of recognition or perhaps worse . Socialist / fringe republican candidates /communists etc were not spoken to much less acknowledged and not in a few cases a more political priest would announce for all to hear their post mortal destination as being in the torrid zone 😉 The Rev Ian Paisleys oratorical denunciations were of a different order , scale and eloquence in raising the mob . In Northern Ireland elections 1920 to 1974 and even today are just population censuses and probably 95% of voters are programmed at birth into a political identity – orange or green or various hues thereof. The lunacy (strong word perhaps ) extends unto the NI atheist or Jew and probably now Moslem as to whether they are Fenian Jews or Jaffa head Jews or ditto for atheists etc ..

    Things have changed radically in the Republic . Nowadays a belt from the crozier is what many would be politicians look for – as it can only enhance their vote numbers . As for NI it muddles through from one end of its circle to the other going nowhere which is the best that can be for the foreseeable future .

    The rest of your post above is alas only too true . German Jews iirc amounted to about 0.5% of the then population and were very much urbanised and residents in the major cities . They were also highly educated and were ‘over represented ‘ in the medical , educational and financial professions and in science . and as you say completely culturallly assimilated many having fought for the Kaiser’s Empire in WW1 . That you might think would have immunised them against the nazi insanity . Quite the opposite -they were singled out as the ’cause ‘ of Germany’s economic political and financial problems . They were close at hand whereas Wall St, London,Moscow and Paris were far away .

    From what I know about the Austro Hungarian Empire the various Slav groups were not as much opposed to the Austrians as the Hungarians . The Hungarians who ranked number 2 in the Imperial Hierarchy were very much resented . I guess nobody likes the landlord but it’s the landlord’s agent who attracts the bricks . Post 1918 Hungary had its Trianon treaty which still rankles as Hungary’s ‘ partition ‘ problem .

    The Iranians might be a lot further down the road to democracy if the Iranian Government of the 1950’s had not been overthrown by a CIA coup . The Ayatollah’s current grip on Iran is not as rock solid as is made out . An American/Allied war against Iran would of course just reenforce ‘religious ” rule . Iranian secular opposition is a lot stronger than most Americans or westerners would assume .

    I wonder if Professor O’Malley has ever updated his ‘Uncivil Wars ‘ Ireland Today (1983) as much has changed since then even if nothing has changed ; )
    It might provide fresh insight assuming of course that the Professor can dig it up from somewhere . I’ve thrown away my shovel at this stage 😉

  • Greenflag 2

    The reference was imprecise . Included in that number is a large number of inter gang murders and a lot of suicides . In amongst the mass school and college executions one reads of the more newsworthy ‘ “SIx year old shoots three yer old brother dead with gun from fridge”

    Presumably the 6 year old assumed that the 3 year old would just get back up like in the video games . American children are exposed to some 11, 000 plus screen killings before they reach 12 years of age . Children in EU countries face similar exposure but picking up a gun kept in a fridge is very much less likely . A society that accepts mass killings as inevitable soon enough finds itself becoming blase and resigned to even more horrors and thats not confined to the USA .

  • tmitch57

    “The Iranians might be a lot further down the road to democracy if the
    Iranian Government of the 1950’s had not been overthrown by a CIA coup .”

    In the 20th century Iran/Persia experienced several short periods of constitutional government before the 1979 revolution starting in, I believe, 1907 and lasting until the Pahlavi dynasty was installed in a military coup following World War I. The next period was in 1951-53, although by the time of the CIA coup (actually an Anglo-American organized coup) Mossadegh was rapidly losing popularity, which is why the coup succeeded. By contrast the only Arab populations that have experienced prolonged periods of democracy in the Middle East have been the Lebanese, in a very flawed and corrupt consociational democracy similar to that of NI in which all the main offices are doled out to particular sectarian religious communities, and the Palestinians living within Israel.

    “I wonder if Professor O’Malley has ever updated his ‘Uncivil Wars ‘ Ireland Today (1983)…”

    It was reissued in the early 2000s with an update in the introduction covering both the NI peace process and politics in the Republic.

  • tmitch57

    The reason why Americans are blase about foreign horrors is that outside of a few programs on the Public Broadcasting System (government-funded and public donations) such as the Newshour and Frontline and 60 Minutes on CBS, foreign news is largely confined to reporting natural disasters, coups, and wars. Most Americans getting their news from television soon learn to think of these things as natural to those areas without thinking very deeply about the causes for them.

  • Greenflag 2

    Thanks for that info – I’ll look for it although probably not a lot new except perhaps a little more optimistic than his 1983 conclusion .

  • Greenflag 2

    Indeed just as many Europeans have learned to think of the USA mass shootings as ‘natural ‘ to the USA . Most people don’t think too deeply -they don’t have time and anyway the mortgage has to be paid to stop foreclosure the kids have to be fed and clothed and college loans have to be paid back and all of that on incomes which have not increased in real terms since the 1970’s . There is an economic reason behind the current GOP implosion but it’s drowned out in the higher tv ratings for more visceral areas like illegal immigration , Obamacare , the debt ceiling etc . Meanwhile college tuition fees and health care premiums etc have soared in cost beyond the payment income levels of the vast majority of Americans which just creates more debt etc . And so it goes .