Obama and Israel: A Review of Eugene Kontorovich’s Lecture

Eugene Kontorovich

President Barack Obama won praise from several American Jewish leaders and even Israeli politicians for his September U.N. General Assembly speech, which included empathy with Israel’s long struggle against hostile neighbors and an emphasis on its Jewish history.  However, according to Northwestern Law Professor Eugene Kontorovich, the president’s latest rhetoric did not change any of the inherently anti-Israel policies that he has mistakenly pursued since taking office.

Those policies include:

  • An unprecedented public U.S. demand for Israel to stop all construction in West Bank settlements and Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem;
  • His demand that Israel should accept the “1967 lines” as the basis for the borders of a Palestinian state; and
  • His demand that Israel should “swap” parts of its pre-1967 sovereign territory with the Palestinians if it wants to keep any Jewish communities in east Jerusalem or the West Bank (located on the formerly Arab-controlled side of the 1967 lines)

Kontorovich analyzed why Obama’s policies are unfair toward Israel at a Republican Jewish Coalition forum in Washington last Wednesday. In the discussion, he noted that:

  • The “1967 lines” were actually armistice lines that separated the rival military forces of Israel and its Arab neighbors when they agreed to stop fighting in 1949. The warring parties (including Egypt, Jordan and Syria) specifically agreed that those armistice lines would not have any bearing on the future political boundaries of the territories they held (except in the case of the Israeli-Lebanese border). Today, the Arab states very much want those lines to be the basis of a future Palestine. Forcing Israel to agree to that before negotiations begin is equivalent to rewarding Arab states for their 1948 invasion of the new Jewish state.
  • The 4th Geneva Convention of 1949 makes no reference to the word “settlements” in war-won occupied territory, but it does prohibit governments from “deporting” or “transferring” civilians into or out of occupied lands. The Israelis who moved into the West Bank after the 6 Day War to establish settlements did so voluntarily, often against the Israeli government’s wishes. Israel did not forcibly “transfer” those settlers into the West Bank. So the presence of Jewish communities in the West Bank, which actually predates Israel’s independence, is not illegal. And it is not something that Israel should have to “pay” for by “swapping” its pre-1967 sovereign territory with the Palestinians.
  • He noted that Obama pressured Israel’s current nationalist government into ordering an unprecedented 10-month freeze in West Bank and east Jerusalem housing starts, but failed to secure any peace gestures from the Palestinians or from Arab states (such as allowing El Al to fly in Arab airspace or opening Israeli consulates in Arab capitals).

Kontorovich also dismissed the main argument that Obama and his supporters use to prove his “pro-Israel” credentials: the continued growth of U.S.-Israeli military cooperation. He said these ties have been built over decades and would be difficult for any U.S. president to slow down. More importantly, Arab leaders have not made the U.S.-Israeli military relationship into an international issue and rarely complain about it publicly. What really matters to them is territory, and getting Israel to surrender its strategic depth, one way or another.

This was written by a community member who attended the event in an independent capacity. Neither the opinions in this piece nor the opinions of the speaker under review reflect a GTJ institutional stance.