Shrinking the Occupation: Israel’s “New” Old Strategy

Israeli philosopher, Micah Goodman, has been described as “arguably Israel’s most influential public intellectual,” exerting an inordinate amount of influence on Israel’s Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, who just completed his 100th day in office. Goodman lives in Kfar Adumim, an illegal Israeli settlement just outside Jerusalem. He is the author of the 2017 book, Catch 67: The Left, the Right, and the Six-Day War, in which he describes the “catch” in which Israelis have been entrenched since the Six-Day War this way: what do they do with the West Bank when both seeming options are untenable: (a) remaining occupiers, keeping the land they conquered, or (b) withdrawing and returning some of the land. Goodman is grateful for this moment in Israeli history; he calls his proposal “the hidden Israeli consensus, … then along comes the government that I was preparing for.” In an interview with NPR, Goodman puts it bluntly:

Most Israelis feel that if we stay in the West Bank, we have no future, and if we leave the West Bank, we have no future. Most Israelis are trapped in this catch.

Thus his proposal, which he elaborated in Catch 67 and in a 2019 article in the April 1 The Atlantic, “Eight Steps To Shrink the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” — “shrinking the occupation.” Goodman is upfront about the duplicity of his proposal:   

… what Israel can do is start shrinking it in steps that shrink occupation without shrinking security, which means shrink the amount that Israel controls Palestinians without increasing the amount the Palestinians could threaten Israelis.

And for Bennett himself, his rejection of the possibility of a Palestinian state is well-known and nothing new.

This government will not annex nor establish a Palestinian state; everyone understands that. Israel will continue the standard policy of the natural growth of West Bank settlements.

Already in 2013, Bennett stated his position more crudely – the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be resolved but rather endured, “like shrapnel in the butt.” Hence his embrace of Goodman, who likened dealing with Palestinians as “a chronic disease that will always be a part of your life.” Goodman’s – and Bennett’s – solution? “Economic peace,” tossing a few sops to Palestinians, hopefully mollifying the global left, making a few face-saving concessions that rearrange the occupation as Israel’s ethnic cleansing policies become permanent. “Shrinking the occupation” is the cover for shrinking concern for Palestinians in the global community’s consciousness, thereby shrinking their solidarity with Palestinian independence and self-determination.

And while the marriage of Goodman’s proposal with Bennett’s predilections is alarming enough, what makes it even worse, it does nothing to move off the dime the hands-off political strategy (if one can even call it a strategy) of the Biden administration regarding Palestine and Israel, leaving the so-called “peace process” dormant, baptizing the unjust, Israel-absolutist, apartheid status quo. Listen to how Biden’s nominee to be ambassador to Israel, Thomas Nides, sounds so much like Goodman in his hearing with the Senate last week: the policy of the United States will focus on making “tangible improvements” for Palestinians, intending to “preserve the vision of a negotiated two-state solution.” Blah, blah, blah, blah!

Trump focused on normalizing Israel’s relationships with its Arab neighbors in the region; Biden seems perfectly content to normalize Israel’s ethnic cleansing project by standing silently by as Bennett, following Goodman, calls it “shrinking the conflict.”

It is incumbent, then, upon us who stand for justice in Palestine and Israel to counter the move to “shrink” consciousness of the occupation; instead to work alongside our Palestinian partners to grow, to expand, to multiply the broad-based, global coalitions of solidarity among trade unions, churches and other religious organizations, universities, particularly student justice groups, progressive Jewish organizations, and other political and societal groups, implementing the goals of the Global Kairos for Justice “Cry for Hope,” the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, and other justice Palestinian-led justice initiatives, and then mobilizing them (again, with our Palestinian partners in the lead) toward a political solution that guarantees full Palestinian civil, political, and human rights and self-determination.

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