Facts About Jewish Settlements in the West Bank
by Mitchell G. Bard
(Updated July 2002)
The term Settlements usually
refers to the towns and villages that Jews have established in Judea and Samaria (the West
Bank) and the Gaza Strip since Israel captured the area in the Six-Day War of 1967. In many
cases, the settlements are in the same area which flourishing Jewish communities have lived for thousands
- History of the Settlement Movement
- Right vs. Wisdom
- Peace Agreements
History of the Settlement Movement
Following Israel's resounding defeat of the invading Arab armies in the Six-Day War, strategic concerns led both of Israel's major political parties - the Labor and Likud - to support and establish settlements at various times. The first settlements were built by Labor governments
from 1968 to 1977, with the explicit objective to secure a Jewish majority in key
strategic regions of the West Bank - such as the Tel
Aviv-Jerusalem corridor - that were
the scene of heavy fighting in several of the Arab-Israeli
The second wave of settlement construction began with the1968 occupation
of the Park Hotel in Hebron, a city with a long, rich Jewish history dating back to biblical times that had only been interrupted
by a massacre of Jewish residents by Arabs in 1929.
Those who came to Hebron in 1968 were the first of the ideological settlers who believed that
Israel's victory the prior year was an act of G-d which indicated divine providence
that the historic Land of Israel should be restored to the Jewish
people. Very few such settlements were established until Menachem
Begin was elected Prime Minister of Israel in 1977. Begin's government, as well assubsequent Likud-led governments,
provided financial incentives for Jews to move to parts of Judea and
Samaria that did not necessarily have any strategic value. Their purpose
was to solidify Israel's hold on territory that was part of biblical
and historical Israel and preempt the creation of a Palestinian state.
A third group of Jews who are today considered "settlers,"
moved to the West Bank primarily for economic reasons; that is, the
government provided financial incentives to live there, and the towns
were close to their jobs.
As of July 2012, the estimated Jewish population of the nearly 130 officially recognized West Bank settlements was 350,150.
Critics suggest these figures imply territorial
compromise with the Palestinians is impossible;
however, the distribution of the Jewish
population is such that a solution is not only
conceivable but also very plausible and practical.
When Arab-Israeli peace talks
began in late 1991, more than 80 percent
of the West Bank contained no settlements
or only sparsely populated ones. Currently, more than 60 percent of Israelis
living in the West Bank live in just five settlement blocs - Ma’ale Adumim, Modiin Ilit, Ariel, Gush Etzion, Givat Ze’ev - which all lie
within only a few miles of the 1967 border, otherwise known as the "Green Line." These settlement blocs could be brought within
Israel's borders so as to retain an Arab population
(from the West Bank) of less than 50,000. It is inconceivable that Israel would
evacuate large cities such as Ma’ale Adumim,
with a population of approximately 35,000,
even after a peace agreement with the
Palestinians, and even Yasser
Arafat grudgingly accepted at Camp
David the idea that the large settelement
blocs would be part of Israel.
The area in dispute
is also very small. According to one organization
critical of settlements, the built-up areas
constitute only 1.7% of the West Bank.
That is less than 40 square miles. Even
if you add the unbuilt areas falling with
the municipal boundaries of the settlements,
the total area is only 152 square miles.
Another charge is that settlements are illegal.
The United States has never adopted this position and legal scholars
have noted that a country acting in self-defense may seize and occupy
territory when necessary to protect itself. Moreover, the occupying
power may require, as a condition for its withdrawal, security measures
designed to ensure its citizens are not menaced again from that territory.
According to Eugene Rostow, a former Undersecretary
of State for Political Affairs in the Johnson Administration, Resolution
242 gives Israel a legal right to be in the West Bank. The resolution
allows Israel to administer the territories it won in
1967 until 'a just and lasting peace in the Middle East' is
achieved, Rostow wrote in The New Republic (10/21/91).
During the debate on the resolution, he added, speaker after
speaker made it clear that Israel was not to be forced back to the
'fragile' and 'vulnerable'  Armistice Demarcation Lines.
Israel's adversaries, and even some friends, assert
that settlements are an obstacle to peace. The evidence points to
the opposite conclusion. From 1949-67, when Jews were forbidden to
live on the West Bank, the Arabs refused to make peace with Israel.
From 1967-77, the Labor Party established only a few strategic settlements
in the territories, yet the Arabs showed no interest in making peace
with Israel. In 1977, months after a Likud government committed to
greater settlement activity took power, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat went to Jerusalem. One year later, Israel froze settlements,
hoping the gesture would entice other Arabs to join the Camp
David peace process. But none would. In another Camp
David summit in 2000, Ehud
Barak offered to dismantle most settlements and create a Palestinian
state in exchange for peace, and Yasser Arafat rejected the plan.
Israel also proved willing to dismantle settlements
in the interest of peace. During the Camp David negotiations with Egypt, all of the issues
had been resolved, but one remained, Sadat's insistence that all settlements
in the Sinai be removed. Begin didn't want to remove them, but he
called Ariel Sharon for
advice. Sharon said that in the interest of peace, the settlements
should be dismantled. Israel did just that in 1982, providing compensation
to residents for the loss of their homes, farms and businesses that
ranged from $100,000 to $500,000 (Jerusalem Post, January 8,
2004). Nevertheless, a small group of settlers in the town of Yamit
refused to leave and Sharon had the army literally drag them out of
their homes to comply with the terms of the agreement
In short, the historical record shows that with
the exception of Egypt,
and Jordan, the Arab states
and Palestinians have been intransigent regardless of the scope of
settlement activity. One reason is the conviction that time is on
their side. References are frequently made in Arabic writings to how
long it took to expel the Crusaders and how it might take a similar length of time to do the same to the Zionists.
Settlement activity may be a stimulus to peace because
it forces Arabs to question this tenet. The Palestinians now
realize, said Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freij, a member of the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid talks, that time is now on the side of Israel, which can build
settlements and create facts, and that the only way out of this dilemma
is face-to-face negotiations. Consequently, the Arabs went to
Madrid and Washington for peace talks despite continued settlement
activity. Similarly, the Palestinians negotiated with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, even though
he also allowed the number of settlers to grow.
Rights Versus Wisdom
The implication of many settlement critics is that
it would be better for peace if the West Bank were Judenrein.
It would certainly be called racist if Jews were barred from living
in New York, Paris or London; barring them from living in the West
Bank, the cradle of Jewish civilization, would be no less objectionable.
On the other hand, though Jews may have the right
to live in the territories, it still might not be to Israel's advantage
for them to do so. Settlements create serious security concerns for
Israel, requiring the deployment of forces to protect Jews living
in communities outside the boundaries of the state and diverting resources
that might otherwise be used to prepare the military for possible
conflicts with enemy armies. The settlements also have had a budgetary
impact as hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year on infrastructure,
incentives, and other material needs for Jews living in these communities.
Many Israelis believe that the military and economic cost is not justified
and support the removal of some settlements. Those closest to the
1967 border, and especially those surrounding Jerusalem, however,
are generally regarded as justified on a variety of grounds and are
likely to be incorporated within the ultimate boundary of Israel.
Israelis also increasingly believe the Palestinians
may be correct about time being on their side. If Israel were to annex
the territories, it would face a dilemma that no official has yet
solved, and that is how Israel could remain both a Jewish and democratic
state. Though some Jews on the right of the political spectrum hold
out hope of a dramatic demographic shift as a result of immigration,
most projections foresee an exponential increase in the population
of Arabs in Israel and the territories. According to Arnon Soffer,
Israel's most prominent demographer, 6,300,000 Jews are expected to
live in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza combined while the Palestinian
population would be 8,740,000. If these Palestinians all had the right
to vote in a "Greater Israel," Israel could not maintain
its Jewish character, and if they were denied the right to vote, Israel
would no longer be a democracy (Forward, January 9, 2004).
This is why no Israeli prime minister, even those believed to support
"Greater Israel," was ever prepared to annex the territories,
and why most Israelis, including Prime Minister Sharon, have favored
trading land for peace and security.
When he presented the Interim
Agreement (Oslo 2) before the Knesset on October 5, 1995, Prime Minister Rabin stated, I wish to remind
you, we made a commitment...to the Knesset not to uproot any settlement
in the framework of the Interim Agreement, nor to freeze construction
and natural growth. Neither the Declaration of Principles of September 13, 1993, nor the Interim Agreement contains any provisions prohibiting or restricting
the establishment or expansion of Jewish communities in the West Bank
or Gaza Strip. While a clause in the accords prohibits changing the
status of the territories, it was intended to ensure only that neither
side would take unilateral measures to alter the legal status of the
areas (such as annexation or declaration of statehood).
According to the road
map for peace, Israel is supposed to freeze settlement activity
and remove illegal outposts. Israel has been removing illegal outposts,
but has not been willing to implement the freeze because the Palestinians
have failed to fulfill their commitments to stop the violence.
In August 2005, Israel
the settlements in the Gaza
Strip and four in the West
Bank under the disengagement
plan initiated by Prime
a dramatic shift in policy by a man considered
one of the fathers of the settler movement. Sharon has
also said that Israel will not keep
all the settlements in the West
Israel gave up all the
territory it held in Gaza and
evacuated some West
Bank settlements without any agreement
from the Palestinians, who now have
complete authority over their population
This offered the Palestinians an opportunity
to prove that if Israel made territorial
concessions, they would be prepared to
coexist with their neighbor and to build
a state of their own. Instead of trading
land for peace, however, Israel exchanged
territory for terror. Hamas came to power
in the Palestinian
Authority and instead
of using the opportunity to build the infrastructure
for statehood, the Gaza
Strip became a
scene of chaos as rival Palestinian factions
vied for power. Terrorism from Gaza
also continued unabated and Israeli towns
have been repeatedly
hit by rockets fired
from the area Israel evacuated.
Sources: Anthony Cordesman, "From Peace to War: Land for Peace or Settlements for War," (DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, August 15, 2003), pp. 17-21.
B'tselem, July 11, 2009; Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics