The Irish scholar and statesman Conor Cruise O’Brien wrote The Siege: The Saga of Israel and Zionism, first published in 1986. not as an expert in the topic but as a highly educated and experienced public figure with a writerly gift. To Allan Arkush, it is “one of those uncommon works of political history in which a man who knows how the world works tells a great story with dazzling literary skill.” Arkush describes how O’Brien came to the topic:
Known to his friends as “The Cruiser,” O’Brien (1917–2008) had a colorful, varied career that defies quick summary; it included a highly controversial stint as a UN special representative in the Congo in 1961 and service as pro-chancellor of the University of Dublin. A prolific author, with important books on subjects ranging from Irish politics to Thomas Jefferson, he was a latecomer to what he called “perhaps the greatest story of modern times.” His own special interest in Jewish history is something that he traces, in part, to his experience as an Irish representative at the United Nations (awkwardly seated, sometimes, between Iraq and Israel). He also says a few things about the somewhat similar history of the Irish and the Jews as underdogs but makes no claim to any special ability to get to the heart of the Jewish experience. . . .
O’Brien had his share of criticisms for Israel’s policymakers, but he seemed to believe that relinquishing the territories acquired in the June 1967 Six-Day War was unfeasible. Arkush notes that his comments on the subject haven’t lost their relevance:
The best that one could hope for, O’Brien concluded, was “quieter talks about how to make the sharing of the territory somewhat less uncomfortable and less dangerous for Israelis and Palestinians alike.” While he wrote this in 1986, the year before the outbreak of the first intifada, it sounds pretty much the same as what a lot of sensible people are saying today.