I first heard the name Micah Goodman in 2017. Having just finished a brief stint at an Israeli think-tank, I returned home to kill a month before grad school restarted. I had reached out to Daniel Gordis, whose latest book Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn, had won the National Jewish Book Award, for career advice. Our conversation ranged from education to Israeli politics. Before I signed off, I asked Gordis for a list of book recommendations. Catch-67 was first on his list.
As a relatively informed graduate student, I was taken aback by the recommendation. A Jewish philosopher from the Shalom Hartman Institute was far from my mind.
Published in 2017 (and translated into English in 2018), Catch-67 became the most talked about book of the year in Israel. At the heart of Goodman’s book is the contention that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is unsolvable. Compounding the intractability of the conflict, in Goodman’s view, are the compelling, and seemingly mutually exclusive, peace postures of the Israeli left and right which has trapped the nation in a no-win situation.
“The very action that can save them from the conflict is precisely the action that would deepen the conflict and make it worse. Withdrawing from the territories would transform the demographic problem into a security problem, whereas remaining in the territories would remove the security threat at the cost of perpetuating the demographic threat. The action that lifts one catastrophic peril merely converts it into another peril, no less catastrophic,” Goodman argues.
Attempts to exculpate Israel from the demographic dimensions of the conflict – that is, the preservation of its Jewish and democratic character – entails conceding a security claim. The two-state solution resolves Israel’s demographic anxieties but replaces it with security considerations of a demilitarized territory, enforcing borders, and the like. Conversely, perpetuating the status quo preserves Israeli security, though according to Goodman by jeopardizing its demographic nature. This is Israel’s Catch-67.
Catch-67 is comprised of three parts beginning with the origin of left- and right-wing Israeli political thought. Following the retracing of the ideological foundations of Israel, in Part II, Goodman demonstrates their maladaptation to the modern peace process. It’s the final section though where the most valuable arguments are nestled. In “The Sphere of Pragmatic Discourse,” Goodman introduces a thorough reframing of the conflict and, also, a recalibration of expectations.
This is best illustrated in the distinction Goodman presents between the occupation of land and occupation of people. “The territories are not occupied but the Palestinians are a people under occupation. Whoever accepts this distinction can also accept the conclusion that follows: the more that Israel reduces the extent of its control over the Palestinians, the more it will minimize the occupation of the Palestinians.”
For Goodman, alleviating relations with the Palestinians through phases can be achieved without severely undermining Israeli national security. Withdrawing Israelis from populated Palestinian areas and relaxing mobility restrictions within the West Bank, “would constitute a meaningful reduction of Israel’s control over the Palestinians,” he writes. In the near-term, Goodman compellingly argues for improving Palestinian daily life, rather than addressing broader national aspirations.
For readers curious as to what, specifically, such an arrangement might look like, Goodman presents the “Partial- Peace Plan,” a nod to a right-wing security-mindedness. Essentially a revised Allon Plan (proposed following the Six Day War), Goodman presents the maintenance of an Israeli military presence along the Jordan River Valley, conversion of the territories into “a non-Israeli zone,” and a demilitarization enforced by the IDF. Final-status issues as Jerusalem or refugees would be sidestepped in this deal.
“The power of a partial agreement is not that it ends the conflict but that it restructures it. The new borders sketched by such an agreement would not abolish the conflict but rather transform its character.”
The Partial-Peace Plan is basic in its aim and ambitions strictly seeking to minimize the daily privations of Palestinians while safeguarding Israel’s existential security.
Readers skeptical that the Partial-Peace Plan avoids a long-term solution, Goodman offers the Divergence Plan. Here, the Israeli government would explicitly refrain settlement growth beyond the blocs and ensure the contiguity of Palestinians living in Areas A and B (outlined in Oslo). Residency would be extended to Palestinians in Area C, akin to Israel’s commitment to Arabs living in east Jerusalem. Such an initiative would not undercut Israel’s demographic concerns while removing the unequal legal status Palestinians in Area C currently encounter.
This “Almost State,” rings familiar to Netanyahu’s call for a “state-minus.” Nevertheless, Goodman offers valuable alterations such as a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem and an Israeli commitment to territorial contiguity which the latter did not. Ultimately, the Divergence Plan aims to reduce “points of friction,” in Goodman’s view.
Critics will point to Goodman’s alternative recasting of the conflict as sleight of hand. “Managing” the conflict, rather than “resolving” hostilities will likely strike Palestinian advocates as meaningless semantics. Such grievances raise legitimate criticisms of Goodman’s proposed alternatives though should not overshadow the fundamental point being raised: that degrees of improvement may well be a better yardstick for peace than absolutes.
“When it comes to traffic accidents and crime, people think in degrees – but when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israelis have become accustomed to thinking in dichotomies. They never ask how to reduce the incidence of terrorism; they want to know how to eliminate it. They never ask how to reduce the intensity of the conflict, only how to solve it.” Nonetheless, by pursuing more attainable, near-term, objectives – perhaps the ease of mobility or reduction of terrorism – will the preconditions for a lasting peace be properly sown.
Catch-67 will continue to inspire debates throughout Israel and the Diaspora for decades to come. Well-written and easily read, in under 200-pages the book is thought provoking regardless of the reader’s prior knowledge. Ultimately, Goodman succeeds in leaving readers with more questions than answers, a welcome development in a field that is often too prescriptive.