I have just finished reading Micah Goodman’s best-selling book called “Catch 67” (in Hebrew only for now). It is very well written and cogently argued, with a very thoughtful analysis of the deeply dichotomous thinking of the left and the right in Israeli politics, and it offers some new ideas for thinking out of the box in coping with the ongoing, unresolved and not-likely-to-be -resolved-soon conflict between the state of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Micah Goodman is one of the leading young Jewish philosophers and educators in Israel today. Founder and Director of the Ein Pratt pre-military academy, a lecturer at the Shalom Hartman Institute and the author of highly popular several important books on Jewish thought, he approaches this subject as a scholar and educator, not as a politician with facile answers to complicated problems. One of his main purposes in writing this book–and in his educational work over the last few decades–is to get people with radically different viewpoints to carefully and considerately listen to each other, with the realization that neither “side” in the political debate in Israel has a monopoly on the truth, and therefore a good measure of modesty, humility and nuance is necessary if we want to really understand why we are stuck in a trap and not able to easily emerge from it with regard to peacemaking in Israel.
What is the trap that he calls “Catch ’67”?
It is the inability to reach a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, despite the promising beginnings of the Oslo peace process in the early 1990s. It is also the inability, and the practical impossibility of reaching a consensus on what should be done about this, which is the result of the ongoing debate in Israeli society for the past 50 years, since the end of the Six Day War of June 1967. The State of Israel won that war militarily but has lost the battle diplomatically, since a half century later Israel still faces the ongoing dilemma of what to do with the territories it captured in that war and how to relate to the Palestinians who live in those territories. This discussion has been going on incessantly for the past half century, with both sides, left and right, digging in deeper and deeper, with no comprehensive solution readily available and reachable for the foreseeable future and no agreement among the people of Israel (who tend to elect the same politicians over and over again) as to how to move forward.
The catch is this:
The Israeli Right thinks that the ideas of the Left are not only wrong but they are also dangerous. The withdrawal from the mountains of Judea and Samaria would reduce the State of Israel to very small dimensions and would make it a very weak state, such that it could be easily destroyed. The Israeli Left thinks that the ideas of the Right are not only wrong but are also dangerous. A continued military and civil presence in the territories under dispute will weaken Israel morally and will isolate it diplomatically and will destroy it demographically. The Right sees the Left exactly as the Left sees the Right. The Right declares that the fulfillment of the vision of the Left would lead to the complete destruction of the state, and the Left declares the exact same thing.
According to Goodman, not only does each side feel that it alone has the whole truth, but neither side listens to the arguments of the other side any more. Instead, both sides continue to make what he calls “identity declarations” but neither side is willing to listen to the dangers inherent in each position. After fifty years of the same circular argument over and over again, Goodman tries –and I believe that he succeeds in this book–to reframe the discussion, so that it is not just a series of statements but actually involves serious listening to the deep concerns of people on both sides of the political divide in Israel.
In addition to his careful and comprehensive analysis of the main strengths and weaknesses of both sides in the first two sections of his book, he devotes the third section to out-of-the-box thinking, which is based on many discussions with security and other experts in Israel. He offers ideas to think about, not superficial solutions and slogans. I liked this part of the book the most because many of the ideas he suggested are pragmatic and possible and do not require everything to be resolved all at once. Indeed, he points out assiduously that all the attempts at reaching comprehensive solutions to very complicated problems have not worked, so it is time to think about other ideas rather than simply repeating worn out slogans.
In general, the ideas that he presents are aimed at gradually ending the occupation and humiliation of Palestinians while still somehow maintaining security for Israel. These are complicated “pragmatic” propositions which are worth reading and thinking about, but which are also all partial and do not end the conflict, but reduce it to more livable less violent levels. But they do not “solve” everything, as Goodman readily admits.
For example, he presents an idea of a “partial agreement” in which Israel would withdraw from most of the territories except for the settlement blocs, but would keep security control in the Jordan Valley. This would greatly reduce the heaviness of the oppression of the occupation and free Palestinians from much of the problems inherent in it, he argues. At the same time, it would not endanger the existence of the State of Israel, according to him.
The one main problem with all his “pragmatic” ideas is that there are no Palestinians who will buy them! This is a serious default, which he does not take into account enough, although he does discuss this briefly at one point in the book. The Palestinians are also in a “catch 67” and as a result of 50 years of occupation and oppression–and a lack of faith in the peace process—and therefore they are not as able as Mr. Goodman to think out-of -the-box.
Nevertheless, Micah Goodman’s attempts to reframe the discussion and to encourage and exemplify empathetic listening about the existential dilemmas we in Israel face are exemplary and meritorious. He is a serious thinker, an excellent writer, and a sensitive intellectual who is committed to listening carefully to both sides of an argument. You don’t find this too often in Israel (or the Diaspora) these days.