‘Catch 67’

In his new book, Micah Goodman argues that both the political Right and Left hold correct views.

Micah Goodman (photo credit: SHALOM HARTMAN INSTITUTE)
Micah Goodman
MICAH GOODMAN’S best-selling new book begins and ends with a well-known passage from the Talmud (tractate Yevamot).
“For three years, there was a dispute between Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel [over halacha].” It was resolved when “a divine voice (bat kol) announced: ‘both are the words of the living God, but the Halacha… is with Beit Hillel.’” There are two bitter quarrels currently ripping apart the fabric of Israeli society. One is the political conflict between Right and Left, that has been festering for 50 years, since the Six Day War. A second is the conflict between the religiously observant and the secular.
“Catch 67” is about the political dispute.
Goodman promises us a second, future book about the religious one.
Micah Goodman, 42, is a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.
He has a doctorate in Jewish thought from the Hebrew University, and has written books on Maimonides, Moses and the Kuzari. He directs Ein Prat, a pluralistic beit midrash (study center), and wears a crocheted kippa. He lives in Kfar Adumim, a mixed religious-secular settlement on the West Bank, with his wife and twin eight year- old daughters − and claims that is where he lives, not who he is.
Goodman was born in Jerusalem to parents who emigrated from the US. His mother came from a pious Roman Catholic family and converted to Judaism. Goodman grew up Orthodox and says he began a long odyssey in search of meaning.
Summarized briefly, Goodman’s “Catch 67” argument is this.
“The new Right and the new Left are a kind of mirror image. The new Left no longer believes that a full withdrawal [from the occupied territories] will bring peace, but thinks a continuation of the current occupation will be a catastrophe. The new Right no longer claims that continued occupation of the territories will bring [messianic] redemption (geula), but believes that withdrawing from them will bring a catastrophe.
“The Right believes that withdrawing from the hills of Judea and Samaria will shrink Israel to tiny proportions, making it a weak and vulnerable country that will eventually collapse. The Left believes that the continued Israeli presence in the territories will crumble Israel morally, isolate it politically and crush it demographically… It appears that both views are true. And because both are true, we are all trapped.”
Status quo? Catastrophe. Change the status quo? Catastrophe. I am reminded of a Woody Allen joke.
“The world faces the disaster of a population explosion and environmental disaster,” Allen said, “or the holocaust of nuclear war.
May we choose wisely.”
In Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel “Catch 22” about World War II bomber crews, people who were crazy did not have to fly – but those who applied to quit flying were by definition sane and thus had to fly. “Catch 67” is a similar double bind. Withdraw, and risk catastrophe.
Remain, and risk a different catastrophe.
Only creativity can escape the trap.
Goodman notes that 70% of Israelis support peace talks and a peace agreement. But an equally large majority believe there is no one with whom to talk peace on the other side.
ISRAELIS ASK themselves whether Yeshayahu Leibowitz could have been right that the military occupation of a civilian population threatens Israel’s morality? But, after the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, is Benjamin Netanyahu right? Can we trust the Palestinians who fire rockets at us? Goodman concludes that both the political Right and Left hold correct views. The silent majority is not between the Left and the Right, it subsumes both views. He insists that, politically, Israel has not moved to the right. The landscape of the majority covers the pragmatic segment of the Likud, Yesh Atid, Kulanu, parts of Bayit Yehudi and pragmatic parts of the Zionist Union. All are trapped by “Catch 67.” All are perplexed.
Thus, Goodman concludes, bleakly but realistically, there is no chance of a comprehensive final peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians at this time. That is a pipe dream.
But there is a bat kol ‒ a possible way forward.
Here is Goodman’s partial peace plan.
A year ago, he asked David Suissa, a Jewish Journal journalist, “Why do we have to look at peace as a utopian end point? Why can’t peace be more like an ingredient, something we can increase as reality permits?” Partial peace means Israel withdraws to defensible borders, mainly along the Jordanian border, leaving 80% of the West Bank for a contiguous Palestinian state. Israel keeps 10% for existing settlement blocs and 10% for its Jordan Valley presence.
Jewish settlers outside the new border could return home or remain in a Palestinian state with special security provisions.
Palestinians would establish their capital in the 100% Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.
The plan does not pretend to end the conflict.
But it would begin the painful process of withdrawal that would ensure Israel’s Jewish and democratic future while retaining a security presence in the new Palestinian state and evacuating no Jews against their wishes.
Goodman used a medical metaphor for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: It’s like a doctor who can’t cure a fatal disease but who can make it chronic, he told Suissa.
“Chronic is not great,” he said, “but it’s a lot better than fatal.”
A large and growing number of experts support Goodman’s partial peace plan. For instance, Tsvi Bisk, director of the Center for Strategic Future Thinking, argued recently in Haaretz that “a policy of conflict mitigation should replace the futile search for a final status deal.”
How did a philosopher and scholar of Jewish studies, whose main goal is to bridge the gap between religious and secular, come to write a book about politics?
GOODMAN RECOUNTS that in 2012 he was teaching a group of students whose average age was 24. In Hillel fashion, in one class he presented the most leftist position he could and in the next class he put forward the most rightist position. His objective was to promote understanding of each position, to help understand the perplexity. Some of the students were religious, accepting of the secular, and others were secular but willing to study Judaism.
One student asked him, “Why do you live in Kfar Adumim? That shows you are a settler who wants to make us converts (chozrim b’tshuva).” Other students responded angrily, “You deny our right to Eretz Yisrael,” they said, “and, maybe, to Zionism.”
Goodman said to himself, wow! What’s going on? A moment ago, we were a unified group. A second later, a student casts doubt on my morality because of where I live and others doubt her Zionism because she thinks I should not live there! Goodman added the incident to a computer file headed “the philosophy underlying politics.” Each time he had an insight, he added to the file. The result was “Catch 67.”
“To some extent I’ve been writing this book all my life,” he observed.
“Catch 67” has drawn fire equally from Left and Right.
“Gen. (ret.) Gershon Hacohen and many others attacked me from the right,” he told The Jerusalem Report. “The right-wing ideologues are convinced my book surreptitiously presents leftist positions, just as Haaretz is convinced my book is ‘rightwing in disguise.’ My book was intended to smash prejudices but finds itself a victim of those very prejudices themselves.”
I asked Goodman how the Palestinians reacted to his partial-peace idea.
“Palestinians are opposed to the idea of a partial withdrawal,” he explained. “They are convinced it is a trick to deceive them.
Many of them told me that the Oslo agreements were an Israeli tactic whose true purpose was to accelerate construction of settlements, and they don’t want to fall victim again to such manipulation.
“That is why, in order to create a breakthrough by a partial agreement, it is necessary to freeze construction outside the main settlement blocks. Without such a full freeze, the Palestinians, after the lessons of Oslo, will be unable to overcome their suspicions.”
I believe that Goodman’s partial peace plan is logical, based on geography, demography and economy.
Geography: The geography of the West Bank settlers makes Goodman’s partial Micah Goodman: To some extent, I’ve been writing this book all my life  peace plan highly feasible. There are 126 West Bank settlements with 400,000 inhabitants.
Most are very small. But fully half of the settlers are concentrated in only five of the biggest: Modi’in Illit, Beitar Illit, Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel and Givat Ze’ev.
All five are close to the Green Line.
Demography: This aspect, too, supports Goodman. Zionist Union MK Hilik Bar observed that Palestinians think “demography is their central weapon in their battle against Israel.” Here are the facts.
There are an estimated 12.5 million Palestinians worldwide – slightly fewer than the 14 million Jews. Of those, 2.7 to 2.9 million live in the West Bank; 1.7 million in Gaza; 1.8 million in Israel; 5.5 million in Arab countries; and 685,000 in non-Arab countries.
In what Palestinians call “historical Palestine” (Israel, Gaza and the West Bank), there are currently 6.22 million Palestinians and 6.5 million Jews.
Palestinian birth rates have dropped sharply, from six children per woman in 1997 to 4.1 today. But they are still higher than in Israel (3.1 children per woman among Jews). Therefore, by 2020, within “historical Palestine” there will be a Palestinian majority, meaning that a one-state solution with full voting rights for all would forever negate the Zionist homeland.
These numbers are controversial because no census has been taken in the West Bank for many years. But even if the population figures for Palestinians are exaggerated, there is no chance a Likud government would ever grant voting rights to, say, even a 43% Palestinian minority.
Because of their relatively high birth rate, Palestinians are youthful, with a third of the population under age 15. Thus, the views of these youths will be decisive. In the battle for their minds and hearts, will lone-wolf terrorism triumph over reason and pragmatism? Economy: As an economist, I find support for Goodman’s step-by-step partial plan in the existing, quiet but strong, economic links between Israel and the West Bank.
These links have an interesting history.
After the Six Day War, under Defense Minister Moshe Dayan’s “open bridges” policy, Israel invested heavily in the West Bank ‒ in hospitals, universities, schools, roads, water supply and electricity. Bridges across the Jordan River were kept open, helping to maintain trade and family relations.
Many West Bank Arabs came to work in Israel at relatively high wages.
As a direct result, the World Bank reported, “The economy [of the occupied territories] grew rapidly between 1968 and 1980, at 9% annually in gross domestic product per capita [owing to] the rapid integration with Israel.”
For a time, the West Bank was the fourth fastest growing economy in the world, rivaling China. Today, gross domestic product per capita in the West Bank is $4,500. This is just one-eighth the standard of living in Israel, but is much higher than in, say, Egypt.
TIES BETWEEN Israel and the West Bank are extremely close in two areas: security and trade and business.
Some 100,000 West Bank Palestinians work in Israel daily ‒ an eighth of their labor force ‒ half of them in construction. In Israeli construction, one worker in every seven is Palestinian. Some 81% of West Bank exports go to Israel, while imports from Israel comprise a third of its gross domestic product.
These strong economic ties continue in the face of sharp political disputes and outbreaks of terrorism. It is time to build and strengthen them, leveraging the pragmatic policies that Moshe Dayan implemented in 1967, which proved highly constructive for both sides.
Goodman is a philosopher, not a political scientist. As such, he has done what philosophers do – raise tough questions and explore possible answers. But some, such as former prime minister Ehud Barak, deny the very existence of “Catch 67.”
Barak is making a very strange comeback, trying to get back onto the political stage while appearing not to. In a 4,000-word article in Haaretz, he rebuts “Catch 67,” claiming that full unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank poses no security risk for Israel.
Trust me, he writes. Trust the generals.
He cites Commanders for Israel’s Security, a group of more than 200 retired senior army officers who support the Saudi Peace Initiative. This is a 10-sentence proposal for ending the Arab–Israeli conflict, calling for normalizing relations between the Arabs and Israel, in return for full withdrawal by Israel from the occupied territories (including east Jerusalem) and a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee problem.
Barak disparages Goodman’s fears of full withdrawal, claiming he and the generals know more than he does about security. Personally, I find that Barak’s arrogance and dismal political track record inspire more doubt than trust. To me, as a center-leftist, the prospect of a Hamas-ISIS border on the Green Line, only four miles from Ben- Gurion Airport, is rather unattractive.
Why, if both Beit Hillel and Beit Shamai were right, did halacha follow Beit Hillel? Because, Goodman explains, the students of Beit Hillel were first taught the views of Beit Shamai and listened to them with respect. Beit Shamai, in contrast, listened only to themselves. As with Shamai, the bitter political fight between Right and Left over Judea and Samaria and the settlements has become a dialogue of the deaf.
“Jewish tradition is one of debate, of argument,” Goodman writes, in his book’s closing sentences. “But it is also one of listening to others – listening that can restore and elevate the culture of the Israeli dispute.”
If it does nothing else, I hope “Catch 67” will help us Israelis become listeners, rather than screamers. Can we restore the Beit Hillel tradition of reasonable discourse to our fractured political scene? Can Jews listen to one another? Can Jews listen to Palestinians – and vice versa? A peace agreement will begin with a small step toward empathy and dialogue, not a huge leap to an imaginary final deal.
If the Holy Grail of a final peace deal is an illusion, can a partial peace plan work?