The concept “shrinking the conflict” formulated by Micah Goodman in his book Catch 67 and used by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett only serves to deepen the gap between the Israeli Government's rhetoric and its actual policy. Bennett increasingly resembles former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his early days, when he would feign to the U.S. Administration a readiness to negotiate a resolution of the conflict while actually doing the opposite, as he later admitted. Let's hope that Bennett will not be tempted to announce the gradual annexation of Judea and “Samaria.”
The problem with the use of this concept is its failure to define the conflict as a national conflict between two peoples, relating to it instead in terms of violence and economic distress. The conflict is about the right of each people to self-determination in its homeland – The Land of Israel and Palestine – in accordance with the decisions of the international community; it is not about the size of the Palestinian GDP or the number of Palestinians working in Israel. The solution to the conflict is binary: either Israel, following international recognition based on UN Resolutions 242 and 338, recognizes the right of the Palestinian people, just as the PLO recognized Israel's right in the mutual recognition of 1993, and allows the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, or it doesn't. This right is not a pants size that can be reduced or expanded at the whim of the tailor.
Questioning Assumptions on Settlement Expansion
Even if we accept the mistaken interpretation of the “conflict,” I would like to raise a few questions that puzzle me: Does the paving of bypass roads to isolated settlements in the heart of Palestinian populated areas lessen the friction between the populations? Does the massive demolition of Palestinian homes in Area C, built on their privately owned land (but without a permit from the Civil Administration), contribute to a reduction in violence?
Will the planned construction of the Atarot neighborhood in the heart of the Palestinian villages in northern Jerusalem lessen the friction? Will the construction in Givat Hamatos and Har Homa contribute to peaceful relations? Won't the planned construction in the E1 area (Mevaseret Adumim) increase the ring of strangulation around East Jerusalem and separate the northern and southern parts of the West Bank? Won't the planned construction in E2 (Givat Itam) choke Bethlehem from the south and increase the friction between Efrat and the Palestinian villages adjacent to Bethlehem? Will the acquisitions and the construction taking place in Silwan and the forced evacuations in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood contribute to reconciliation between the peoples? Will the building of thousands of new housing units, most of them in isolated settlements, contribute to stability?
Will the appointment of a minister in charge of settlements improve the dialogue with the Palestinian Authority? Will the advancement of the “Young Settlements” law, which relates to some of the 135 illegal outposts – some of which are on privately owned Palestinian land, and some of which the government promised both the Americans and the High Court of Justice to evacuate but has not – reduce the conflict? Will the continuing construction of 70 agricultural farms, some of them on privately owned Palestinian land – and some of whose pastureland intentionally trespasses on Palestinian agricultural and pastureland, – diminish the friction?
Does the violence of some of the settlers, which has reached new heights in the last two years, contribute to calm? Has Bennett announced to the perpetrators of Jewish terrorism that he intends to foil their goal, the acceleration of friction and violence in order to cause widespread unrest, which they hope will result in the army expelling the Palestinians to Jordan (a “second Nakba [catastrophe]”)?
“Conflict Shrinking” Measures Lack Logic
The lack of courage and willingness to deal with the real problem leads to taking “conflict shrinking” measures which lack all logic and can even border on total security and health disorder and chaos. The separation wall, costing more than 20 billion shekels, has become a sieve. Every day, more than 100,000 Palestinian workers without work permits cross the Green Line into Israel undisturbed. The crossing is so convenient and fast that even Palestinians with work permits prefer to enter through breaches in the fence, without a security or Covid passport check, rather than wait in line at the official checkpoints. Israel invested billions in the construction of these checkpoints and even established a Land Crossings Authority within the Defense Ministry to operate them.
Even if the government and defense establishment are correct in claiming that providing a livelihood to Palestinians contributes to security, why not implement it with security and health supervision? The truth is that Israel prefers Palestinians to remain a cheap labor force – which, among other problems, pushes out Arab workers who are citizens of Israel – rather than allowing them to develop and work their own agricultural lands, which constitute no less than 52% of Area C. This is because, according to Bennett's 2012 “plan to ease tensions,” Israel must annex these lands.
One More Empty and Laundered Concept
The expression “shrinking the conflict” joins the pantheon of the government's empty and laundered concepts, and replaces the term “conflict management.” It's not surprising that Micah Goodman, who admitted to “moral laziness” and who thinks that “the only way to preserve justice is to forgo a little justice,” is the one who coined this term. It can be assumed that someone who for a decade was blind to the neighbors living right under his nose, in Khan El-Akhmar, also suffers from moral irresponsibility, since he doesn't know how Israel actually applies the model of “shrinking the conflict.” In the Jewish quarter of Hebron, for example, Israel “shrunk” the friction by turning the heart of Hebron into a sealed-off ghost town. Hundreds of Palestinian stores were shut down and tens of thousands of people were forced to relocate to parts of the city controlled by the Palestinian Authority. This was in order to enable a handful of settlers – who wreak violence against Palestinians and Israeli soldiers – to live as lords of the land.
Goodman ignores the fact that Israel reneges on its obligations in Hebron, such as the reopening of the Palestinian wholesale market. Among other reasons, this is because Bennett, when he was defense minister, advanced a plan to build a high-rise building on the roof of the market for the benefit of the settlers in the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. Or maybe Goodman does understand the significance of the model of “shrinking the conflict” and “living together” and sees it as an appropriate way to fulfill his stated vision: “In another ten years, Israel will rule over the Palestinians less than it does today” (from “Catch 67” by Micah Goodman).
“Singing the Conflict”
The concept “shrinking the conflict,” which seems so sophisticated, is just an empty and laundered phrase, which brings Bennett's (and Goodman's) rolling of the eyes to new heights of dismissal of the reality on the ground, international law and international resolutions, Israeli law, and moral standards. Maybe the government should even take a step further and announce that Israel will strive to move on from “shrinking the conflict” to “singing the conflict.” This sounds more positive and also fits in well with the prime minister's basic positions and world of images; he believes that the problem with the Palestinians is unsolvable and that it is preferable to live with a “thorn in your side” than to remove it and risk becoming disabled – which he and Goodman assume will happen in any scenario in which the conflict is resolved, and a Palestinian state is established alongside the State of Israel.