The Israeli-Palestinian Enthymeme


This commentary first appeared in the Algemeiner on on October 18, 2012.

In rhetoric, an enthymeme is an argument that contains an unarticulated premise. Commonly this is because the conversation is among a group of people with shared values, among whom one or more of those values — premises to an argument — it is assumed, requires no expression. Among a collection of crime–busting DA’s in a death penalty state, the argument “it was a coldblooded, premeditated murder — he should be executed” does not require expression of the major premise “people who commit premeditated murders should receive the death penalty.” That commonly-held belief is understood. Sometimes people assume too much. Sometimes they are careless in their arguments. Sometimes they are being tricky. Who knows. Whatever the reason, for various reasons, unarticulated premises — unstated assumptions — are the cause of much misunderstanding and confusion in argument, including political argument.

There are, in truth, two Israeli–Palestinian enthymemes, one on each side and each a kind of inverse of the other. It isn’t that the assumption in each case has gone, literally, until now, always unstated. It hasn’t. The assumption — a fundamental position — has been stated many times and continues to be stated often. It is that each assumption is a belief generally characterized as an extreme position, articulated by individuals and groups pursuing a goal generally considered to be extremist. These “extremists,” most often — and the more extreme, the more often — do not make enthymemic arguments. They present their full case, every premise, every belief articulated toward the conclusion: the clear goal. Rather, they are the more moderate and reasonable parties, or parties who believe themselves to be moderate or pretend to be reasonable, who make the enthymemic arguments.

The Palestinian enthymeme omits the premise that the parties presenting their position do not accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Again, many extremist Arab and Palestinian organizations, such as Hezbollah and Hamas – and Muslim nations, such as Iran – obviously are already quite open about this, though many foolish people refuse to see the brick wall of this rejection that boxes everyone in – the original separation barrier that has separated the region from peace since 1947 and longer. However, that premise – essentially, that Israel is illegitimate – is the unexpressed, even motivating belief of many parties who pretend to moderation, but do not truly practice or pursue it.

In “The ‘Peace and Justice’ Charade,” I wrote about those activists and groups who utilize the language of social justice and peace to pretend that what they seek is an equitable and humane resolution to conflict that, as concepts of social justice always imply, upholds the rights and interests of all parties. In truth, these groups advocate continued conflict toward the goal of a Palestinian victory. Typically, when representatives of these groups and the many non-affiliated sympathizers with them address a current event in the ongoing conflict, the 2008-09 Gaza War, for instance, they direct their attacks at what they claim are current Israeli misdeeds. But this is always a cover. If, rather than debate the usual concocted “facts” that regularly come to dominate the media and international responses to these events, one pursues a historical chain of exploration with such critics, one discovers a not-so-curious countervailing fact: there was never a time, before the misdeeds of Gaza or the deceptions of Oslo or the failures leading to 1973 or the “aggression” of 1967 in which Israel was ever right or justified. There is sometimes the cursory premise in pretense that Israel is a nation with legitimate interests, but when matched against historical events, this turns out to be effectively untrue. What is revealed is a commitment in intellectual belief to the idea that every practical policy ever pursued actually to bring Israel into existence was somehow an injustice, in an invalidating, illegitimating act. Thus is the unstated premise exposed.

What, then, is the Israeli enthymeme? The Israeli enthymeme, most recently justified, but not openly acknowledged per se by the Levy Report, is that Israel is no longer bound by its acceptance of the 1947 partition plan. The extreme position, entirely disrespectful of the partition plan, is the religious claim of a Jewish right to all of Biblical Israel. This argument is openly made, all of its premises clearly stated.

For many others, however, the six decades and more of Arab enmity and anti-Semitism and war and terrorism have invalidated, if not necessarily Palestinian rights, certainly Israeli obligations to pursue resolution to the conflict as if the past six decades have not happened. In truth, there are degrees to which almost anyone with some degree of sympathy for Israel accepts this argument. International policy pursuits are nothing if not inconsistent.

Accordingly, for instance, consider forty-five years of constant reference to post-1967 U.N. resolutions as if – goes the pretense – they are legal directives with completely coherent legal foundation. The call is always to return to the 1967 boundaries. Why do none of the responsible parties demand a return to the ‘47 partition lines? The 1967 boundaries – the 1949 Armistice “Green” lines – were never established as permanent boundaries. Should not any ultimate resolution return all parties to the original plan and division of land? Would that not be equity?

No. All responsible parties recognize what the 1948 war and Arab rejection of and reaction to the partition revealed – that Israel as constituted in the partition plan was untenable. Legal and logical consistency be damned. So all but Israel’s enemies simply ignore this de facto historical development – a development always implicitly acknowledged and accepted in calls to return to the 1967 boundaries.

There is a further consequence, however. The consequence is to establish a precedent and foundation for the Israeli enthymeme. There have, after all, already been consequences to Arab rejectionism. The Arab nation that might have arisen within the borders of the 1947 partition plan is forever lost. Since 1967, what Palestinian Arabs have been offered are the reduced borders established by the 1948 war. Since 1967, Israel has argued, as after 1948, that the ’67 boundaries were established by the war to be inadequate to Israeli security. Israel, officially, seeks adjustments. Some oppose, but many – the details continually disputed – accept the principal. Once more, Palestinians will pay a price for a course of cultural and political hatred and rejection they have pursued. Once more, a foundation for the Israeli enthymeme is laid.

There are multiple additional reasonable arguments in support of the unstated premise of the Israeli enthymeme. An end of the Levy Report was to find one in challenging the very notion in law of Israel as an occupying power on the West Bank. There is a natural right – and a great contradiction  for the Palestinian Authority in rejecting it – of Jews to live on the West Bank. There is the basic case in common sense that argues, “How many times must I be rejected and abused – horribly abused – in response to my offer of a compromise before I may rightfully say, you know what, I withdraw my offer.”

If Palestinians and the Arab world can wage unremitting hatred, perpetual terror, and intermittent war against Israel for 64 years and still end up with the same deal they could have had before (but not the same – not 1947!), then what price is there to be paid other than the lost time and lives and the other costs of conflict? And who recompenses Israel for its losses?

Given, then, the record, and the continuing Palestinian rejection, on that side, of any genuine effort at reconciliation, why not just pursue, little by little, in creeping reality of circumstance, a modern Israel that embraces all of its historic land? We will not make this our official policy, and if a miracle should occur, and the Palestinians suddenly offer what they never have before – well, we’ll deal with that then. In the meantime…

There are many justifications for the Israeli enthymeme. There is one profound argument against it.

The international community and people in general accept, as most people will in nearly all circumstances, the fairness of compromise. The decades-long record of Arab and Palestinian rejection will not stand out in the minds of most people any differently from the endless charges and counter-charges, of grievance and counter-grievance that characterize to fatigue the contours of every conflict in the world. What stands out, what will always stand out in the end, if they are maintained to the end, are Israeli justness and fairness in contrast to the contrary among the nation’s enemies – a willingness at the conclusion as at the start to accept reasonable compromise. If, instead, Israel uses all of the easily comforting justifications of Arab behavior to seek in the end the same total victory Israel’s enemies have long sought against it, Israel will have sacrificed much of the honor of its beginnings.

There has been much discussion for over a decade about how an Israeli left may meaningfully reconstitute itself, what it means to be a liberal Zionist in some way other than ignoring the failure of Oslo, and the reasons for it, and simply parroting, in a sandwich of AsAJew love, Palestinian arguments. There is, however, lots of historical precedent for clear liberal recognition of the world’s horrors and of the world’s bad actors and of the resolve required to meet them. Many of Israel’s founders contribute to that precedent. Liberal Zionism today need be no different. A liberal Zionism will also maintain a true commitment to a two-state resolution to conflict. That commitment entails not acquiescing to the Israeli enthymeme, the not fully stated argument that Israel should no longer be committed, whatever the behavior of its foes, to a secure and fair compromise and two states.


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