The Bottom Line
One of the major barriers to the creation of two contiguous, sovereign states for Palestinians and Israelis is the existence – and continuing growth – of illegal Israeli colonies (widely called "settlements") on land long recognized by the United Nations as part of Palestine. Despite a repeated international condemnation, including a UN General Assembly resolution and a ruling by the International Court of Justice, the population of these settlements, which currently number 121, has grown by an average of 5% annually since 2001. That compares to an average growth of just 1.8% for the population of Israel proper. Peace Now
Israel has repeatedly refused to dismantle these settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Golan Heights, and has repeatedly fudged and violated various moratoriums on "new" growth. As stated by Maria Viotti, Brazil's ambassador to the UN and the current rotating president of the Security Council, "Further settlement construction threatens peace in the region. Halting construction has been misrepresented as an Israeli concession while in fact international law requires it." Haaretz
A settlement is any residential area built across the Green Line, the 1949 cease-fire line between the newly established state of Israel and its Palestinian/Arab neighbors. During the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel took control of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and Syria's Golan Heights.
An "outpost" is, essentially, an "unofficial" settlement established after the 1990s. In 1996, Israel responded to international pressure and announced it would no longer build new settlements, although it continued to grant permits for expansion of existing ones. However, the government looked the other way when religious settlers established their own colonies. Although these were called "illegal" or "unauthorized," no punitive action was taken.
Settlements in Numbers
Number of settlements: There are currently 121 Israeli settlements and approximately 102 Israeli outposts built illegally on Palestinian land occupied militarily by Israel since 1967 (West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights). The largest of the illegal settlements is Modi'in Ilit, with a population of 46,245 as of 2009. Foundation for Middle East Peace
East Jerusalem and the adjacent West Bank "settlement blocs" of Givat Zeev (extending to the edges of the Palestinian city of Ramallah) and Maale Adumim (extending almost halfway to Jericho) are all on the west side of Israel's "separation barrier" in what is sometimes referred to as the "Jerusalem envelope." This means that Palestinian East Jerusalem is separated and to an increasing degree sealed off from the rest of the West Bank.
Israel withdrew its 8,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, showing it can be done; however, it continues to control entry to and exit from the crowded enclave, and to enter at will with its military.
Population: These settlements and outposts are inhabited by a population of some 462,000 Israeli settlers: 191,000 live in settlements around Jerusalem and an additional 271,400 are spread throughout the West Bank. Approximately 385,000 of those settlers, in 80 settlements, will be located between the Separation Wall and the Green Line if Israel adheres to projected plans. Palestine Monitor
Land and Infrastructure: Settlements are built on less than 3 percent of the area of the West Bank. However, due to the extensive network of settler roads and restrictions on Palestinians accessing their own land, Israeli settlements dominate more than 40 percent of the West Bank. Palestine Monitor
As of August 2008, there were 794 kilometers of bypass roads in the West Bank. All bypass roads have a 50–75m buffer zone on each side, where no construction is allowed. These buffer zones have led to a great loss of agricultural and privately owned Palestinian land. Palestine Monitor
Resources: Settlements are the cause of great inequalities in access to natural resources between Israelis and Palestinians. Many settlements are built on prime agricultural land confiscated from Palestinians, or on key water resources such as the Western Aquifer basin, springs and wells. Israeli West Bank settlers consume an amazing 280 liters of water per day per person compared to 86 liters per day available for Palestinians in the West Bank - only 60 of which are considered potable. The World Health Organization recommends a minimum of 100 liters per day – meaning that settlers use far more than double the water required, while Palestinians do not even approach the minimum. Palestine Monitor
The settlements are commonly positioned on hilltops overlooking Palestinian communities, and the wastewater is frequently discharged into nearby valleys without treatment. Moreover, solid waste generated in Israel is dumped without restriction in the occupied territories. Solid waste from West Jerusalem, for example, is transferred to an unsanitary West Bank dumping site at Abu Dis, which overlays the infiltration area of the Eastern Aquifer. Similarly, many Jewish settlements dump their solid waste in the West Bank, as do many military bases and communities located inside Israel. The Jerusalem Fund
The Psychology of Settlements
Settlers living in the blocks surrounding Jerusalem largely identify themselves as 'economic settlers' -- those who have been enticed to settle in occupied lands by the variety of public and private incentives offered by the government. While most government incentives for settlers, such as grants and tax breaks, were eliminated under Prime Minister Ariel. Sharon, Israelis can often still obtain more advantageous mortgages for homes in settlements.
In contrast, the settlers who have populated the area around East Jerusalem, Nablus and Hebron, for example, are doing so based on extreme religious convictions. These individuals are known as members of the "Gush Emunim" or Bloc of the Faithful. These settlers believe that Israel's success in the 1967 war was a sign of messianic redemption, and today they view the settler movement as the return of the Jewish people to their biblical homeland. "For religious settlers, Arabs are an alien element in the organic unity of Jews and their land," writes Gadi Taub, assistant professor of communications and public policy at Jerusalem's Hebrew University. "Although the occupation and the suspension of Palestinian rights are officially temporary, the right wing aspires to keep Arabs indefinitely in quasi-colonial status." These religious, or "ideological," settlers are relatively few — around 130,000 of the total half-a-million — but their actions have an outsized-impact. Op-ed, The New York Times For example, the number of extremist religious Jews joining the Israeli army, and assuming leadership positions there, is currently on the rise. Thirty percent of recruits who graduate from the preliminary course required for joining the army describe themselves as "religious Zionists." This represents a huge increase from 20 years ago, when the rate was closer to 2.5 percent. (It should also be noted that today, only 12 percent of the general population of Israel describe themselves as "religious Zionists," which means that the percentage within the Israeli army is more than double that of the general population.) A number of extremist Rabbis have begun warning Israeli troops against the consequences of evacuating Jewish settlers from their homes, saying that performing such an act would be in violation of the Ten Commandments revealed to Prophet Moses from Almighty God. Asharq Alawsat
Settlers often carry out violent attacks against Palestinians and their property with complete legal immunity, and often with more than implicit support from themilitary itself. In fact, Israeli soldiers often protect and assist settlers, and legal proceedings are rarely brought against them. While Israeli settler violence against Palestinians is a daily occurrence in the occupied Palestinian territory, it particularly intensifies during the annual olive harvest – mostly in the vicinity of Nablus. In many cases, settler violence is used as a means to discourage Palestinians from harvesting their land. During August through October 2010, Palestinians in the West Bank reported a total of 277 cases of settler violence – ranging from arracks with knives, bats or fists; to arson; to the use of live ammunition. PLO Negotiations Affairs Dept.
Hebron also is a target for settler violence. In 1997, Israel divided the city of Hebron into two zones: 90,000 of the city's inhabitants came under Palestinian jurisdiction (H1), whereas 40,000 Palestinian Hebronites remained under direct Israeli occupation (H2), for the sake of about 450 Israeli settlers (0.3% of the total population) living among them. The Jewish settlers of Hebron are fanatic extremists even by Israeli standards. They regularly ransack Palestinian shops, cut electricity lines and water pipes, wreck cars and attack schoolchildren. Ran HaCohen
Another "hot spot" for settler expansion and violence is in neighborhoods in and around East Jerusalem, including Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah. An estimated 2,000 settlers live in these neighborhoods , in houses which have been expropriated by means of the Absentee Property Law, on the basis of alleged prior Jewish ownership, in buildings purchased from Palestinian owners, and in residences custom-built and financed by settler organizations. In addition to this residential presence, settlement activity in these areas is characterized by archaeological activity and the creation of tourist sites and visitor centers. UN OCHA in OPT
In the most severe cases, settler expropriation has resulted in the loss of property and the eviction of the long-term Palestinian residents. Other humanitarian consequences include restrictions on public space and residential growth in areas already severely overcrowded and inadequate services. In addition, the close proximity of settler and Palestinian residents, with the added military presence that comes with sustained settler presence, magnifies the potential for tension and violence: human rights organizations reported in November 2010 a sharp increase in the number of children arrested by the Israeli authorities in Silwan, following clashes with settlers and security guards. UN OCHA in OPT
Settlements and International Law
Israeli settlements are illegal according to every basic reading of international law:
- Article 46 of the Hague Convention prohibits confiscation of private property in occupied territory. Article 55 of the same document stipulates that "the occupying state shall be regarded only as administrator of publicbuildings, real estate, forests and agricultural estates... It must safeguard the capital of these properties, and administer them in accordance with the rules of usufruct."
- Article 49, paragraph 6 of the Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly stipulates that "the occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies."
- UN Security Council Resolution 446 (1979) and 465 (1980) both condemned the settlements. Rex. 446 stated "that the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East." Likewise, in 465, the Security Council called upon Israel to "dismantle the existing settlements." Most recently, in February 2010, a resolution was introduced and supported by 14 members of the Security Council, "reaffirming that Israeli settlements (including East Jerusalem) are illegal and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace. It also demanded once again that Israel immediately and cease all settlement activities. The U.S. was the sole dissenter, thus vetoing the resolution.
- The 2004 ruling by the International Court of Justice declared that "Israeli settlements.., including East Jerusalem, are illegal and an obstacle to peace.."
The Israeli settler movement has continued growing and expanding throughout the last few decades regardless of which political party holds sway in Tel Aviv. In other words, settlement building is not a policy of either the right or the left; it is the policy of Israel.
ICAHD, East Jerusalem Demolitions
AFP, Settlers attack West Bank village after demolition, 2.28.11,
Asharq Alawsat, A Crisis in the Heart of Israel, 11.28.10,
Haaretz, The UN is ripe for advancing the Palestinian agenda, 2.22.11,
Foundation for Middle East Peace, http://www.fmep.org/settlement_info/settlement-info-
Haaretz, Israel vows to raise all illegal outposts built on private Palestinian land, 3.1.11,
The Jerusalem Fund,
The New York Times, In Israel, Settling for Less, 8.29.10,
Palestine Monitor http://www.palestinemonitor.org/spip/spip.php?article7
Peace Now http://peacenow.org.il/eng/node/297
PLO Negotiations Affairs Dept.,
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian
Territories, January 2011 Humanitarian Monitor Report,