I hold no hope for Trump’s Palestinian-Israeli peace proposal even before he reveals it because neither he nor his son-in-law Jared Kushner understands the dynamics within Israeli and Palestinian societies or between the two peoples. They think they can solve this intractable problem by infusing money into the Palestinian community. The Middle East doesn’t work that way. The history of failed peace attempts is proof.
Micah Goodman, an Israeli philosopher, author, and a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, has written an important book called “Catch-67 – The Left, The Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War” (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018). He describes well the conundrum facing Israelis and Palestinians within their own societies and in light of their histories, ideologies, demographic claims, religious and political orientations of the varied interests within each society, and in their relationship with each other.
To begin, Goodman describes the primary dynamic in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship:
“The rift between Israelis and Palestinians is perpetuated by a destructive psychological dynamic. The clash between these two nations is also a clash of emotions. … Israelis fear the Palestinians. This fear is ancient, deep, and common to Israelis of all political stripes. … Palestinians are not afraid of Israelis, but they feel humiliated by them. The conflict between these two nations is a clash of emotions – specifically a painful confrontation between fear and humiliation. … The Israelis’ fear of Palestinians pushes them to take defensive steps, such a placing restrictions on Palestinians’ movement, delaying their passage through checkpoints, and questioning them at the entrances to public places. … This humiliation inflames the existing feelings of hatred and anger, and creates a climate that breeds violence – violence that in turn heightens the Israelis’ sense of fear. …. When fear and humiliation collide, each becomes stronger.” (Pages 7-8)
Goodman believes that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has no clean solution:
“Israel’s founders had to sacrifice some of their dreams so that the country could come into being. Now, Israelis too must sacrifice some of their dreams so that Israel may continue to exist.” (p. 140)
He argues that both the Israelis and the Palestinians are caught in a trap (i.e. “Catch-67 after Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22”) and that the challenge is to turn to pragmatism over idealism and to lower everyone’s expectations.
Goodman says that the aspiration to repeat a comprehensive peace treaty with the Palestinians has obstructed political progress for decades. He argues instead for a partial Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank which would serve Israel’s humanitarian and prophetic interests in abolishing its immoral military occupation and rule over 2.5 million Palestinian civilians while keeping Israel militarily defended.
He says that in the past, Israel has unrealistically demanded that the Palestinians relinquish their right of return in exchange for a state, thus turning their backs on their five million refugees, betraying their own nation to make peace with Israel, and transforming their religious and national identity.
The alternative? Goodman says is the idea of the Islamic hudna, a ceasefire that could last indefinitely. The hudna implies a partial peace deal that does not require Palestinians to relinquish their national and religious identity but gets them sovereignty and control over their lives.
“In a partial accord, the Palestinians would be expected neither to forgo the return of refugees, nor to reconcile themselves to alien sovereignty over Islamic soil, nor even to agree to end the conflict permanently or renounce all their claims. The formula is simple enough: the Palestinians would not compromise their basic identity, and Israelis would not compromise their security.” (p. 151)
Palestinians would regain their dignity and dispel their humiliation while Israelis would attain the security they so deeply need. The problem on the Israeli side, however, is the right-wing messianic religious conviction that God gave the entirety of the land of Israel to the Jewish people in perpetuity and that everyone else is a foreigner.
Goodman’s book considers this conundrum as well as virtually every argument and challenge on all sides. He acknowledges that everyone is right and wrong, and that there is no perfect solution – only an interim and partial one.
This 178-page book is a must read for those who wish to understand the two societies, and why pragmatism is the only way in which both peoples and nations will survive.