This summer a book by Micah Goodman called “Catch-67” (מלכוד 67) was a best-seller in Israel. About the conflict with the Palestinians, it argued that both the Left and the Right in Israel were correct: we can neither annex the territories with their Arab populations and survive as a Jewish and democratic state, nor can we abandon them and live with a deadly enemy on our doorstep. Goodman notes that both sides have by now lost their dreams, of a comprehensive peace on the one hand or sovereignty over all the Land of Israel on the other, but they have become stuck: their uncompromising ideologies became part of their very identities, rendering them unable to even listen to the arguments of the other side.
Goodman proposes that instead of trying to do something that is impossible – either withdraw from the territories or annex them, without endangering our existence – we should try to convert the insoluble conflict from an existentially threatening one to a chronic, but manageable one. His practical ideas in this direction involve concessions to the Arabs that (he thinks) will reduce friction with them while not damaging our security.
For various reasons, in particular the mischievous activities of outside parties and the creative nature of Arab and other anti-Jewish hatred, I found his ideas for turning down the flames and managing the conflict unconvincing. But the initial chapters of the book, in which he explained the ideological history of both the Right and the Left in Israel, and his explication of the arguments for and against withdrawal – the demographic argument for abandoning the territories and the security argument for holding on to them, are masterful.
In a few words, the demographic argument beloved by the Left says that Israel can’t digest the Arab population that comes with the territories. Even if there would continue to be a Jewish majority (and this seems to be the case) Israel would in essence become an unstable binational state which could not be held together in a democratic union.
The security argument of the Right says that the experience of the withdrawal from southern Lebanon, where the vacuum was filled by Hezbollah, and the abandonment of the Gaza Strip and the subsequent takeover by Hamas – both of which resulted in wars – shows that allowing a hostile element to control the high ground of Judea and Samaria, close to our population centers, would be disastrous.
When his book came out, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak wrote a long review of it. Unsurprisingly, the man who oversaw the withdrawal from South Lebanon in 2000 that led directly to the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and the Hezbollah buildup of today, and who tried to give away the store to Yasser Arafat at Camp David (but ended up with the Second Intifada instead of “peace”), didn’t think the security problem was worth worrying about:
The Judea and Samaria ridgeline that rises above the coastal plain is not without military value, but neither is it the be-all and end-all. Security is not only a dominating observation point and positions to emplace weapons. Security is a totality. It is the sum of military, civilian and diplomatic capabilities, and it is also national morale. …
… a strong and ever-stronger IDF, backed by Israel’s technological superiority and by the ties with the United States, is the foundation stone of security.
There are no explanations of precisely how our technological superiority and “ties with the United States” would overwhelm the strategic value of geography and the importance of strategic depth, but so far withdrawals have brought only war, not peace.
On Friday, in an op-ed published in the NY Times, Barak doubled down on his Orwellian “vision” in which concessions to enemies are strength, withdrawal is power, and Israel’s image in Europe and America is more vital to our survival than defeating our enemies. Barak viciously attacks PM Netanyahu – who has presided over one of the most stable, peaceful and economically fruitful periods in Israeli history – for leading an “ultranationalist” and “irrational, bordering on messianic” government according to his “whims and illusions.” Netanyahu’s policies, says Barak, are leading to “creeping annexation of the West Bank aimed at precluding any permanent separation from the Palestinians.”
Maybe he doesn’t think Israelis will see what he writes in an American newspaper, because if you ask pro-settlement Israelis about Netanyahu, they will tell you about the glacially slow pace of construction of housing in settlements, and the destruction of neighborhoods and whole towns in Judea and Samaria as a result of unprovable claims made by Palestinians with the help of European-financed NGOs. They will tell you about increasing illegal Palestinian construction in areas supposedly under full Israeli control. Whatever you think about Netanyahu, he is definitely not an “ultranationalist” or “messianic” about settling the territories.
But Barak hits all the buttons, including the never-ending corruption investigations against Netanyahu and, of course, his “damaging Israel’s crucial relationship with American Jews” (careful Abu Yehuda readers will note that I predicted this accusation after a “crisis” was provoked by the Israeli Left’s American allies).
Luckily for us, Barak’s credibility among Israelis is close to zero. They still remember southern Lebanon and the Second Intifada. I would be very, very surprised if his re-entry into politics will be successful. He may have to be content with preaching to his progressive American choir on the pages of the Times.
Which brings me back to Micah Goodman’s Catch-67. The book was published in March of 2017, in Hebrew only. Books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in English sell well enough, but as yet no English translation has appeared. In my opinion this is because Goodman intended the book to facilitate a dialogue in Israel between Israelis, not to stimulate discussion or, God forbid, further intervention by Americans and Europeans.
Ehud Barak, conversely, chose to publish his vulgar hit-piece on Netanyahu in English in the New York Times. Why? Is he hoping for another American intervention as in the 1999 election, when Bill Clinton sent James Carville and other top advisers to Israel to help Barak defeat Netanyahu; or as in 2015, when the Obama Administration provided aid to an “anyone but Netanyahu” movement? Or maybe he’s just soliciting contributions from well-off progressives who want to save Israel from herself?
Goodman advocates listening to and understanding the arguments of both sides and wants to create a dialogue that he hopes will ultimately bring about a reconciliation between the opposing camps in Israel and the development of a policy for managing the conflict with the Arabs. He understands that it is Israelis who have to solve their own problems; they will not be solved for us by Americans. Barak takes the opposite approach, belittling and attacking his opponents on the international stage, indeed even joining Israel’s enemies in accusing her of violating international law.
Goodman is an academic and wants to remain one. Barak thinks he should be the next Prime Minister. Thank goodness Israelis are too smart to let this happen!