Micah Goodman Catch-67 Part III Projections and Theory

As many do, Goodman predicts that Palestinians will be a majority in the Palestinian Mandate in the not too distant future because of their birth rate. That would mean a stark choice for Israelis – an apartheid state in the West Bank or a unitary state in all of Palestine? But the latter presumes the inclusion of Gaza. Further, the latter assumes that Palestinians would not continue to be denied political rights, but not in a way to entail apartheid or that Area C might be divided from the rest of the West Bank with additional land added to make the Palestinian area approximately equivalent to the area controlled by Arabs in 1967. This would presumably be done with Israel controlling the security of the area and Jews who continue to live in the Palestine proto-state area being ensured physical protection and the same civil rights that West Bank Palestinians would have who remained in Area C that would be annexed by Israel.

Goodman also has a thesis about the shift in the position of the Left in Israel, from a politics in which no peace with the Arabs was possible, to one, after the Six Day War, where the dream of trading land for peace was surrendered and Israelis came to believe the Arabs were unwilling to make peace. At the same time, labour Zionists were surrendering their socialist dream. For Goodman it is no accident that the ideal of peace displaced the ideal of egalitarianism in the Left dreamers of Zion. Goodman never justifies this substitution thesis.

Further, Goodman casts that shift into a constant religious time trope of Leftist idealists. “The past is rooted in sin; the future in redemption.” (40) UN Resolution 242 calling for an exchange of land for peace mirrored and even underpinned that trope, but this was rejected by the Arab League’s three no’s, no to exchange of land for peace, no to negotiations and no to recognition. The problem is that Goodman truncates this whole shift and only offers less than a page to the peace with Egypt. Scholars like Seth Anziska (Preventing Palestine: A Political History from Camp David to Oslo) argue that, rather than marking a definitive shift to a peace path, Camp David, in reifying the Israeli rights to settlements in the West Bank and hiving off the agreement with the Egyptians as a separate accord, built in the key obstacle to ever concluding a peace with the Palestinians, namely the rights to settle in the West Bank.

According to Goodman, “The peace treaty that was ultimately signed between Israel and Egypt in 1979 gave the new left a fresh impetus and injected it with new hope.” (45) However, according to Anziska, the Camp David Accords effectively denied Palestinian existence as a collectivity and ensured Israeli control over the very space under most contention. Jimmy Carter’s attempt to ensure Palestinian sovereignty was permanently undermined.

This is a very different narrative, and neither one of the Left nor the Right, but a claim to be based on objective evidence rather than tropes and myths. Peres’ vision of a transactionalist peace based on mutual economic interests had been structurally undercut by the political terms of the Camp David Accords. In effect, the Israeli Left was lying to itself and lying to the world even if not deliberately or consciously.

Why is this important? Because Goodman’s whole thesis depends on two competing ideas, the dream of a Greater Israel and the dream of Peace Now. But what if the dream of peace now is underpinned by a structural arrangement that inhibits and undermines the possibility of peace and fosters, even if unintentionally, a Greater Israel. More significantly, what if the dream of Greater Israel is not really a dream of an Israel controlling the security and population of the West Bank and really merely annexing key areas next to Israel? Then the desperate vision of a future unitary state in which Palestinians constitute the majority (Goodman 69) is but a misleading nightmare and one not really shared in any depth by Israelis, even if the Left often pays lip service to that nightmare. The tension between a Jewish and non-democratic vision versus a democratic but Palestinian majoritarianism is simply a false dichotomy.

For that is not how most Israelis offer their narrative. The occupation did not instigate the Second Intifada. The Second Intifada took place in spite of the offer to end the occupation and retreat from the settlement activity and perhaps even because the offer was seen as a sign of weakness. The Left was effectively destroyed.

But why did the Arab League three no’s not destroy the peace process, but the Second Intifada did? Goodman argues that, “The new right and the new left are mirror images. The new left no longer argues that withdrawing from the territories will bring peace. Rather, leftists maintain that sustaining a military presence there will bring disaster. The new right no longer argues that settling the territories will bring redemption. Right-wingers claim that withdrawing from them will bring disaster. Both have replaced their greatest hopes with their darkest fears.” (61)

This is not how I read the developments since the Six Day War. The new right and the new left are NOT mirror images but complementary. It is not that leftists any longer believe that sustaining a military presence in the West Bank will bring disaster, but they have come to believe that the combination of withdrawing a military presence and withdrawing the settlements will bring disaster. Right wingers still believe that the settlements in the West Bank bring redemption, but have come to believe, by and large, that settling the whole of the West Bank is no longer required for redemption. The two sides have come from different places to adopt complementary theses. Further, the Left has surrendered hope for despair rather than fear. The Right has surrendered faith for a more refined and limited resignation.

What I (and Hirschman) call the passions, Goodman calls ideology. What I (and Hirschman) call interests, Goodman calls arguments. However, ideologies and passions are supported by arguments, but ones very difficult to dislodge. By contrast, arguments for interests depend almost exclusively on empirical details. Further, instrumentalism (arguments for interests) define a modern identity. In contrast, ideologies define a more classical moral identity that is as true of the Left as it is of the Right. Both, contrary to Goodman, justify courses of action.

Thus, Goodman and I have a theoretical difference as well as a difference in reading the history of Zionism. Goodman writes that Israel is a liberal democracy surrounded by anti-Western cultural forces, one resisting any Western invasion and one desiring to purify the Middle East of a foreign non-Islamic presence as well. Goodman wrote that antisemitism was rooted in the belief that any non-Muslim sovereignty in the realm of Islam was an offence against God. (67) However, any international survey of the left in the world and some right-wing governments, especially of Putin’s Russia (cf. Izabella Tabarovsky, “Soviet Anti-Zionism and Contemporary Left Antisemitism”), suggests that the roots of antisemitism go much deeper and far beyond simply the Islamic world.

I concur in Goodman’s picture of the complementary passionate forces behind the “resistance” that oppose the instrumental ones. In that sense, the Palestinian passions match and are opposed to the complementary Jewish ones. I am convinced that interests and only interests can be aligned, a factor that Goodman shoves to the sidelines. However, security interests rather than economic interests divide Palestinians and Jewish Israelis. It is the combination of security interests and passionate beliefs that deliver a knockout blow to any economic instrumental forces behind cooperation.

Goodman argues, as do many Israelis, that the issue of the Palestinian right of return has haunted Israel’s existence since 1948. In reality, the prospect of refugee return was initially just an adjunct to a Palestinian return to dominance. It only became a real prominent issue, other than a propagandist one, when the trade of land for peace was on the table after 1967. However, contrary to the dominant conventional wisdom, the return of the Palestinians to Israel proper in the multilateral talks did not turn out to be the enormous obstacle as originally envisioned. The main issue instead became the problem of a “right” to return rather than actual return and the problem of return to a Palestinian state rather than Israel. For most Palestinian refugees already lived in Palestinian-dominated territories. Nevertheless, Goodman, like Halevi, continues to believe that Palestinians have to trade the right of return for Israelis surrendering control over the land in the West bank when this is no longer a key issue.

Like Halevi, Goodman also views the Nakba as dominating the Palestinian narrative, which it does. But just as I have argued that the Holocaust can be both historically and mythologically detached from the idea and rebirth of an Israeli state, so can that happen with the Nakba. It is not the determining huge force that both Halevi and Goodman attribute to it.

This is Goodman’s summary of the residue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are “three components: the centuries-long trauma of Islam’s humiliation by the West; the decades-long trauma of the mass Palestinian exodus during the War of Independence; and the fifty-year trauma of occupation and military rule from the Six-Day War to the present. The solution of two states for two peoples addresses only the third component.” (78)

My argument is that the only real issue is the occupation and a meaningful and doable partition. Nothing can be done about a past sense of humiliation and it cannot be addressed by any accord. On the other hand, the Palestinian refugee issue can and has been handled by ready-at-hand compromises and has not turned out to be the envisioned obstacle imagined by both Israelis and the West and advertised as such by the Palestinians.

When we add to this the distorting emphasis on the demographic problem – which Goodman still sees as central – and Israel’s alleged growing diplomatic isolation that ignores Israel’s wider diplomatic and economic acceptance, we are being served a narrative that makes the problem much more difficult to crack than it really is. The choice is not really total withdrawal or the impossibility of peace as Goodman describes the Hobson’s choice at the beginning of Chapter 6 in concurrence with a dominant Left narrative. The choice may be significant unilateral withdrawal, very gradual security withdrawal and very gradual increased transfer of state powers to Palestine. Such a belief need not reinforce a continued Israeli domination of the West Bank. This is, in essence, the Goodman peace initiative restored.

Goodman argues that, “The right’s denial of the demographic risk is deeply rooted as is the left’s denial of the territorial security risk.” (91) I have suggested that the focus on the demographic issue is a sideshow and that there is very little if any denial of a security risk by most Israelis. Further, left wing Israelis have their own hidden passions and are not just instrumentalists just as the right has its own instrumentalism and is not governed simply by passion even if leftists tend toward cosmopolitanism and rightists tend to emphasize nationalism. The left’s reverence for a positive view of nationalism is well documented in Yoram Hazony’s The Virtue of Nationalism. Zionism by definition prioritizes nationalism over cosmopolitanism without denying the importance of an internationalist outlook.  The vast majority of Israelis still value the precepts of Zionism and only the radical left, as Goodman contends, despairs of Zionism. (118)


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