Israeli Settlements Under International Law
By Mollie Leavitt
Photograph of Eugene Kontorovich courtesy of Daniel Tian, Daily Northwestern
The building of Israeli settlements is one of the most divisive issues surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They have received criticism from the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations as a barrier to peace, and many see them as an antagonizing act on behalf of the Israeli government.
However, while the U.S. government refers to these settlements as “illegitimate,” they do not refer to them as “illegal,” according to the Center for Foreign Relations. Perhaps, this could be because the settlements are not illegal at all under international law – at least in the opinion of Northwestern Law Professor Eugene Kontorovich.
Three student groups- The Alexander Hamilton Society, Northwestern University Political Union, and Wildcats for Israel- hosted the professor in a speech defending the legality of he Israeli Settlements Tuesday night in Scott Hall.
While much of the international community believes that the settlements in the West Bank and the Golan Heights are illegal against international law under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Kontorovich expressed his staunch disagreement.
He picked apart the language of the Fourth Geneva Convention, arguing that the convention only opposes governments actively transferring their citizens, as the Germans did during World War II. However, he argued, Israeli citizens are voluntarily moving themselves to these regions, and the government is not forcibly transferring them. Therefore, the constraints of the convention do not apply to these settlements.
During a question and answer session, some audience members did not buy the argument – or if they did, they did not believe it sufficient to defend the actions of Israelis.
Students contended that while Israel does not overtly transfer its citizens to the West Bank and Golan Heights, settlers do use state power to obtain the ability to settle in those regions. Additionally, another student added that a more human interpretation would be necessary in addition to the strictly legal analysis of the situation.