Micah Goodman Catch-67: The Left, the Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War Part IV Logic and Implications

The Israeli-Palestinian dispute is not a conflict, as Goodman contends, and as his empathetic mentor Halevi also believes, between the passions of Palestinians and their sense of honour and the interests of the Israelis and their need for security. Goodman amply testifies how passions, on both the Left and the Right in Israel, dictate polar opposite positions on the peace issue. But this fails to take into account that the majority of Israelis support neither pole. This misconception in itself is part of the myth that serves as an obstacle to any moves towards reviving a peace process, let alone a peace agreement. I remain totally unconvinced that “Israel political thought has become binary over the past fifty years.” (13) The range of mixed motives and Zionist dreams for a secure and Jewish dominated polis exists in different proportions across the whole range of Jewish Israeli positions. The binary stereotype is simply a misleading trope, especially problematic for a philosopher who strenuously objects to false dichotomies.

Chapter 7 of Goodman’s book focuses on the moral dilemma rather than demographic or security issues. As imperialism retreated around the world, Jewish occupation of majoritarian Palestinian lands became more intolerable. Further, just as Israelis were, Palestinians too were married to their own passions and were not willing to sell them out for interests, that is, for instrumentalist advantages. “The Palestinians coveted freedom from Israeli rule more than they coveted its economic benefits.” (95) And for Israelis, they had to acknowledge that, as overwhelming believers in democracy, there was no democracy in the West Bank.

However, I became confused at that point. I could not understand why Goodman wanted Israel to offer a distorted narrative of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict or the repetitious thesis on Israeli right-wing messianism. I am unsure, but believe it is because he wanted to reemphasize that Israelis could not trust the international community nor hold onto all the territory of the West Bank because that was demanded by God. However, these are fringe views. The confusion is not about extremes, but how to manage intelligently a surrender of occupied territory and provide the Palestinians with sufficient land while ensuring both Israeli security and preventing an internal disruption as a result of any attempt to dismantle the settlements. 

What then is the solution? Goodman lays out the ground when he begins the chapter by citing John Stuart Mill’s thesis that conviction does not depend so much on our personal arguments as on the strength of the group to which we belong that profess those beliefs. (121) In other words, tribalism rather than reasonableness reigns supreme. That is why Goodman joins Halevi in the end (and Tony Blair with respect to Northern Ireland) in finding in religion the source of a solution rather than the source of the problem. (125) In the united Jewish/Muslim narrative rather than the differences between them will be found the answer according to both Goodman and Halevi.

I am not convinced. Religion is as likely if not more likely to arouse the passions as arouse an outreach to strangers and others. Certainly, as Goodman admits, the Jewish religious authorities in Israel discriminate against more progressive forms of Judaism, dictate marriage methods, public transit on shabat, and even the drafting of ultra-Orthodox Yeshiva boys. Therefore, it is not only Palestinian Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank, but most Jews who suffer from Jewish discrimination. These practices are hardly consistent with the Declaration of Independence on equal rights for all citizens.

I would put much more emphasis on practical measures. Look how, in the end, Goodman recasts the Zionist narrative, placing the responsibility on Ben-Gurion for sacrificing the state’s secular character, surrendering to partition and compromising on the socialist vision. (133) I tell a very different story. Compromise with the religious parties preceded independence and was not initiated simply to ensure that UNSCOP did not turn off the Zionist enterprise as Goodman contends. (135) Goodman’s position runs contrary to the evidence from the UNSCOP archives and even biographies of Ben-Gurion.  Compromise was necessary given the definition of politics as the art of the possible.

The compromise on partition began in 1935 and was settled by the Holocaust and the extermination of most of European Jewry. It was a gradual process and one that Ben-Gurion backed into reluctantly and not because he believed, “that it was better to relinquish the dream of sovereignty over the whole of the land of Israel in order to guarantee the creation of a state on a portion of it.” (136) The latter was never a guarantee. And the former was not visionary compromise, but one driven by facing reality – the power of the British, the strong resistance of the Arabs and the diminished demographic depth of the Jews.

As for compromising on the socialist vision, I simply do not know what Goodman meant when he says that Ben-Gurion chose Zionism over socialism and “the interests of state of the Jewish people over the status of the working class.” (135) Is Goodman really a closet Bundist? In any case, these were not failures but necessary determinations given the actual forces on the ground. Ben-Gurion was a pragmatic politician and pragmatics ought to continue to be the order of the day. 

Yet I agree that pragmatics may dictate abandoning the vision of a comprehensive peace agreement in favour of interim accords on the ground. But they may also dictate abandoning the idea of comprehensive international recognition in favour of unilateral moves with limited international support. Further, pragmatics may not dictate a reversion to the Allon Plan of settlements simply for security purposes, but would favour, as Goodman favours, continued Israeli security control of the West Bank.

I doubt, however, that anyone would accept the idea that this was also being undertaken to prevent a Palestinian state from collapsing. Further, the idea of trading a surrender of territory for the surrender of the right of return of refugees (148) is both irrelevant and unnecessary as well as an impossible dream. I do, however, agree that Palestinians will have to, as they have in the past, modify their dreams of even immediate statehood let alone replacing an Israeli state with a Palestinian one. It is as if the Palestinians will have to revert to the Zionist belief in gradualism that dominated prior to 1935.

Goodman and I arrive at similar though not identical outcomes, but with very different narratives and underpinning. This includes the offer of Israeli citizenship to the 100,000 or so Palestinians in Area C even if few take it up initially. This includes the compromise on Jerusalem. This includes the limits on the expansion of settlements which have already accomplished both their central religious and security goals. This includes supporting the development of a self-determined Palestinian state, except for security, and also a more or less contiguous one.

I also agree that political pragmatism can bridge the gap between the Israeli Right and Left even if it will be much harder to bridge the gap between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians. But we have to re-start somewhere. Further, that is where the vast majority of Jewish Israelis can be located and not in either of the extremes of the Left and Right that Goodman projects onto Israel to define the obstacles to peace in radically dichotomous terms.

Our current situation, especially the last Israeli election, seems to have indicated that various gradations of positions on the Right have been victorious while the Left has fallen into a very peripheral status. The chance then of returning the land in Area C is virtually nil. As Amit Gilutz of B’Tselem correctly states, 60% of the land in the West Bank remains fully under Israeli control. The area is home to 100,000 to 150,000 Palestinians who face severe restrictions in obtaining building permits, unlike the 440,000 Jewish Israelis in 135 “legal” settlements. The Palestinian population in Area C has dropped from about 300,000 in 2013, largely because of the severe restrictions on their daily lives. For example, access to clean water, to build houses and to build schools have all seriously deteriorated without even counting the high number of demolition orders. Yet there are about 100 illegal Jewish outposts in that part of the West Bank. As of now, there has been a de facto annexation of the area. Regrettably, I believe this situation seems irreversible.

In the rest of the West Bank, the situation in terms of demography is reversed with about 2,150,000 Palestinians in Area A and B. Area A covers 18% of the West Bank, including the eight major cities on the West Bank: Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarem, Qalqilya, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron and Jericho. Area B consists of 440 Palestinian villages and their surrounding lands and no Israeli settlements. The Oslo II Accord required that, “during the first phase (my italics) of redeployment,” Areas A and B were to be transferred to the Palestinian Council according to Article XI.2. “Land in populated areas (Areas A and B), including government and Al Waqf land, will come under the jurisdiction of the Council during the first phase of redeployment.” Unfortunately, since the Second Intifada, this transfer has not been carried out and, in some cases, has been reversed.

Nothing, of course, was said about transferring an equal area of Area C to the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Council. This, or close to it, was proposed in the bilateral negotiations, but there was no agreement. There is nothing that prevents Israel from offering an equivalent of 60% of the West Bank to the Palestinian Council, or, at the very least, holding it in reserve for the Palestinian Council, including the territory that will allow a contiguous Palestinian state to emerge.

There are two quite separate but not unrelated problems, that of the equality of Palestinian Israeli citizens and that of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, about 350,000 of them, most of whom lack citizenship. After 1967, the Government of Israel offered citizenship to Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, the area which Israel had annexed. Relatively few accepted the offer. However, after 2008 and despair over any positive outcome to Oslo, there was actually a surge in applications for citizenship from Palestinians in East Jerusalem even though, in the previous five years, and perhaps because in the previous five years, Israel began turning down about half the applicants because of the inability of the applicants to “prove” they were residents of East Jerusalem.

The surge has been pushed in good part by inconvenience, since more and more East Jerusalemites need to travel for work or want to travel for leisure. However, since then, the situation has become much worse. And in the last few years, after receiving and partially processing the applications, Israel failed to accept as citizens almost all of the applicants. A significant backlog has developed. Between 2014 and September 2016, 4,152 East Jerusalemites applied for citizenship. 84% were approved and 161 rejected. The rest of the applications are pending. In 2016, 1,102 applications were submitted. Only nine applications were approved. Two were rejected. Now, in addition to the inconvenience of not having an Israeli passport, the bureaucratic requirements have significantly increased.

If West Bank land in Area C is to be annexed, it should happen in conjunction with a program of increasing equality of Israeli Palestinians, easier access to citizens of East Jerusalem and, presumably, Area C, and ensuring the political rights of Palestinians in the rest of the West Bank are enhanced and protected.

However, the hardest challenge in pragmatism is to combine realism with an adherence to moral and political principles. That is the challenge for most Israelis and for the vast majority in the diaspora.

With the help of Alex Zisman

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