Bad Cop, Worse Cop: An Interview with Eugene Kontorovich on Israel's Ceasefire

There is a Hebrew word I am fond of which, translated in English, literally means “it would be enough for us.” So you could say hearing eight days plus of the Arab point of view courtesy of CNN and BBC, together with yesterday’s misleading headline in Huffington Post, which absolved Hamas from all wrongdoing and lay blame squarely on Israel, is enough to make me hang on tight to that Hebrew word: dayenu. It is media bias like this that has prompted me to seek out experts to provide informative, no-spin perspectives on Israel.

Here is the result of my 30 minute phone interview on November 23, 2012 with noted lawfare expert and Northwestern law professor, Eugene Kontorovich:

First, I’m impressed with your articles and your pro-Israel stance. What do you make of the head of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal and other Islamic leaders like Abu Obaida, spokesman for Izzadin Kassam, who took photo ops and claimed victory over Israel?

Kontorovich: The fact that Hamas claimed victory means nothing. The current practice of Arabs in general is to claim victory no matter what. So we shouldn’t be dismayed by their victory celebration. That in itself isn’t concerning. On the other hand, we know that this ceasefire means nothing changes to these groups and that they will continue to operate. Some pundits have even claimed Netanyahu agreed to the ceasefire to boost his chances of re-election. This is ridiculous, and if anything the ceasefire hurt his chances. What this escalation means is we are back to the status quo in that Hamas can continue firing rockets into Israel.

So you’re saying nothing has changed on the ground minus removing the immediate threat of ongoing rockets sailing into Southern Israel, the holy city of Jerusalem or even Tel Aviv?

Kontorovich: Yes, it means Hamas gets to cancel school in Beersheba and perhaps other cities, and Israelis get to spend time in bomb shelters. Every year or so when they feel like it, Hamas can make life miserable for Israelis and make normal living come to a standstill. So Hamas survives as it’s a perpetual, almost institutionalized terrorist faction in Israel.

So what does the ceasefire mean to Israelis in broad terms?

Kontorovich: Israel went to war to curb the constant rocket attack but we didn’t change the reality of the situation. To really understand this you have to know Hamas is shooting rockets at major Israeli cities. Beersheba and surrounding cities have taken a toll since 10,000 Israelis were forced to evacuate their homes in 2005 so Israel could withdraw from Gaza. The thinking on this has always been once we give them the land we can go in and crush them. But the past seven years has shown this is simply not true. We will never receive the international support to go in and crush Hamas.

How supportive do think the White House was during this recent escalation?

Kontorovich: One thing I’ll say is that the support from the West and Obama administration did seem good. Many people were happy about it. I admitted I was happy about it. Jeffrey Goldberg could challenge my feelings on how I think Obama responded yet I had already praised him on it though we still must keep the praise in context. When did we have to praise Western leaders for telling us to respond to thousands of rockets? When did we have to say, “Thank you, for letting us respond to these rockets.” The support from the West for having a permanent terror group stuck inside Israel is concerning but that’s it.

So you’re saying that the international community is preventing Israel from solving the problem of perpetual terror to the magnitude that the Jewish state would like?

Kontorovich: Yes. The only other place the escalation could gone to was a ground invasion and it would result in many casualties and take time to clean out Hamas. Depending on how you look at the situation, it was heading towards Cast Lead, and we know where that went.

Does Hamas need to leave the region?

Kontorovich:  Even if you were to push Hamas out, reinforcements from Islamic Jihad and the Muslim Brotherhood would arrive, and the only way Israel could handle this is to reoccupy Gaza.  Obama probably didn’t think post-election was the right time to take Gaza but it simply must be on the table. Even a partial occupation is at least something to consider so Hamas realizes what they’re giving up.

It seems to me that the national identity of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas is one in the same, even though Hamas is considered a terrorist by the U.S. and other countries, and the PA is media savvy, operates a global delegitimization campaign, and is considered moderate.

Kontorovich: Well the point to make is it’s a good cop, bad cop routine, and I’ve addressed this a lot in the Volokh.com conspiracy blog. But its clear Fatah is a creature of the past, and the Arab world is not responding. For instance, the bus bomb that closed off the rocket campaign was not a Hamas initiative but a Fatah operation. So claiming responsibility for the bombing is a sign of who really is in power.

So would you deem Fatah the cleanup crew for Hamas?

Kontorovich:  I would leave it at a good cop, bad cop routine.

Well, many in media paint the PA are moderates, though from being in the online pro-Israel community for years I see the PA and Hamas as sharing the same goals. Can you address the difference in these points of views?

Kontorovich: Well, even if the PA were moderates, it’s a joke. They’re a no-show entity.

What do you make of the giant key in front of the Aida Palestinian refugee camp that continues to keep the lie alive that Palestinians hold the key to Israel? How would you resolve the burgeoning refugee numbers that will remain at 20 million in 50 years even though the original refugees are dead?

Kontorovich: First, you have to remember these are not real refugees. Refugee numbers in Pakistan and India are growing too. But Congress knows classifying people as refugees when they’re not doesn’t help anyone.

Yes you’re referring to Senator Mark Kirk’s watershed amendment to H.R. 5758 (Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Act, 2013) that Steven J. Rosen and Daniel Pipes worked on to count the actual number of Palestinian refugees. Besides H.R. 5758, is there any way we can ever shake sense into the UN who repeatedly dings Israel and regularly casts a black cloud over the Jewish state?

Kontorovich: It’s an impossible feat. What’s important here is changing the perception of the way people see Israel. For example, the UN is also asinine and anti-Western so when most realize the UN meets yearly to condemn the U.S. for its colonialism associated with the American Indians they start to understand the problem.

I blogged about how the UN never publicly condemned North Korea’s bombing of Yeongping Island. At the time, I had installed a widget which calculated the number of weeks and months that had passed with no public condemnation. The last I checked it was years. So how can we rely on the UN when they routinely turn their backs on so much terrorism and genocide?

Kontorovich: At the same time, the UN fails to condemn Pakistan, North Korea, Iran and other countries for human rights abuses. When people hear these injustices they begin to realize the gravity of bias Israel is dealing with, making it less about Israel and more about the UN.

Once we ended our call, Kontorovich left me with much to think about regarding the ceasefire. Hate, after all, is a worthless emotion, and it never propelled any group towards productivity. It is just as doubtful that unprovoked civilian attacks and creating media-imposed heroes and arch-enemies will ever prompt the Palestinians to gain the state they so desire. 

Eugene Kontorovich is currently hard at work on a book: Justice at Sea: Piracy and the Limits of International Criminal Law (Harvard University Press). Please follow Eugene on twitter.com/@EVKontorovich and twitter.com/@volokhcom.

Jennifer Hanin is an Act For Israel founder, journalist, blogger and author of Becoming Jewish. Follow Jennifer via Twitter twitter.com/jennhanin.

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