Myths & Facts Online
has no right to be in the West Bank. Israeli settlements are illegal.
Israel has no right to be in the West Bank. Israeli settlements are illegal.
Jews have lived in Judea and Samaria the West Bank since ancient times. The only time Jews have been prohibited from living in the territories in recent decades was during Jordan's rule from 1948 to 1967. This prohibition was contrary to the Mandate for Palestine adopted by the League of Nations, which provided for the establishment of a Jewish state, and specifically encouraged “close settlement by Jews on the land.”
Numerous legal authorities dispute the charge that settlements are “illegal.” Stephen Schwebel, formerly President of the International Court of Justice, notes that a country acting in self-defense may seize and occupy territory when necessary to protect itself. Schwebel also observes that a state may require, as a condition for its withdrawal, security measures designed to ensure its citizens are not menaced again from that territory.1
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. Rostow noted, "allows Israel to administer the territories" it won in 1967 "until 'a just and lasting peace in the Middle East' is achieved," Rostow wrote.2
Settlements are an obstacle to peace.
Settlements have never been an obstacle to peace.
Settlement activity may be a stimulus to peace because it forced the Palestinians and other Arabs to reconsider the view 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. The growth in the Jewish population in the territories forced the Arabs to question this tenet. "The Palestinians now realize," said Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freij, "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."3
Many Israelis nevertheless have concerns about the expansion of settlements. Some consider them provocative, others worry that the settlers are particularly vulnerable, and have been targets of repeated Palestinian terrorist attacks. To defend them, large numbers of soldiers are deployed who would otherwise be training and preparing for a possible future conflict with an Arab army. Some Israelis also object to the amount of money that goes to communities beyond the Green Line, and special subsidies that have been provided to make housing there more affordable. Still others feel the settlers are providing a first line of defense and developing land that rightfully belongs to Israel.
The disposition of settlements is a matter for the final status negotiations. The question of where the final border will be between Israel and a Palestinian entity will likely be influenced by the distribution of these Jewish towns. Israel wants to incorporate as many settlers as possible within its borders while the Palestinians want to expel all Jews from the territory they control.
If Israel withdraws toward the 1967 border unilaterally, or as part of a political settlement, many settlers will face one or more options: remain in the territories, expulsion from their homes, or voluntary resettlement in Israel. The impediment to peace is not the existence of those settlements, it is the Palestinians' unwillingness to accept a state next to Israel instead of one replacing Israel.
The Geneva Convention prohibits the construction of Jewish settlements in occupied territories.
The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits the forcible transfer of people of one state to the territory of another state that it has occupied as a result of a war. The intention was to insure that local populations who came under occupation would not be forced to move. This is in no way relevant to the settlement issue. Jews are not being forced to go to the West Bank and Gaza Strip; on the contrary, they are voluntarily moving back to places where they, or their ancestors, once lived before being expelled by others. In addition, those territories never legally belonged to either Jordan or Egypt, and certainly not to the Palestinians, who were never the sovereign authority in any part of Palestine. "The Jewish right of settlement in the area is equivalent in every way to the right of the local population to live there," according to Professor Eugene Rostow, former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs.4
As a matter of policy, moreover, Israel does not requisition private land for the establishment of settlements. Housing construction is allowed on private land only after determining that no private rights will be violated. The settlements also do not displace Arabs living in the territories. The media sometimes gives the impression that for every Jew who moves to the West Bank, several hundred Palestinians are forced to leave. The truth is that the vast majority of settlements have been built in uninhabited areas and even the handful established in or near Arab towns did not force any Palestinians to leave.
Israel is provocatively settling Jews in predominantly Arab towns, and has established so many facts on the ground territorial compromise is no longer possible.
Altogether, built-up settlement area is less than two percent of the disputed territories. An estimated 80 percent of the settlers live in what are in effect suburbs of major Israeli cities such as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. These are areas that virtually the entire Jewish population believes Israel must retain to ensure its security, and even President Clinton indicated in December 2000 should remain under permanent Israeli sovereignty.4b
Strategic concerns have led both Labor and Likud governments to establish settlements. The objective is to secure a Jewish majority in key strategic regions of the West Bank, such as the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem corridor, the scene of heavy fighting in several Arab-Israeli wars. Still, 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.5
Today, approximately 225,000 Jews live in roughly 150 communities in the West Bank. The overwhelming majority of these settlements have fewer than 1,000 citizens and several have only a few dozen residents. Analysts have noted that 80 percent of the Jews could be brought within Israel's borders with minor modifications of the "Green Line."
Israel must evacuate all Jewish settlements before a final peace agreement can be achieved with the Palestinians.
The implication of many settlement critics is that it would be better for peace if the West Bank were Judenrein (empty of Jews). This idea would be called anti-Semitic 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.
Any peace settlement would inevitably permit Jews who preferred to live outside the State of Israel under Palestinian authority to live in the West Bank just as Arabs today live in Israel. No Israeli government would be expected to enforce the kind of policies instituted by the British by which large areas of Palestine were declared off-limits to Jews.
At Camp David, during Jimmy Carter's presidency, Israel agreed to halt the construction of settlements for five years. Within months, Israel had violated the accords by establishing new settlements on the West Bank.
The five-year period agreed to at Camp David was the time allotted to Palestinian self-government in the territories. The Israeli moratorium on West Bank settlements agreed to by Prime Minister Menachem Begin was only for three months. Begin kept this agreement.
Israel's position on the matter received support from an unexpected source: Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who said: "We agreed to put a freeze on the establishment of settlements for the coming three months, the time necessary in our estimation for signing the peace treaty."6
The Palestinians rejected the Camp David Accords and therefore the provisions related to them were never implemented. Had they accepted the terms offered by Begin, it is very likely the self-governing authority would have developed long before now into the state the Palestinians say they desire.
U.S. loan guarantees provided Israel with billions of dollars from American taxpayers that was used to build settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to house Soviet Jews.
Since 1989, approximately one million Jews have immigrated to Israel. The majority, roughly 80 percent, have come from the former Soviet Union. Israel must provide these immigrants with food, shelter, employment and training. The task is even more challenging when it comes to absorbing Jews from relatively undeveloped countries like Ethiopia, who often must be taught everything from using a flush toilet to how to withdraw money from a bank. To meet these challenges, Israel has invested billions of dollars. In addition, the American Jewish community has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars through the United Jewish Appeals Operation Exodus campaign and other philanthropies.
Still, the task was so daunting, Israel turned to the United States for help. To put the challenge in perspective, consider that the United States a country of 250 million people and a multi-trillion dollar GNP admits roughly 125,000 refugees a year. In 1990 alone, nearly 200,000 Jews immigrated to Israel.
The United States led the Free World in helping secure the freedom of Soviet Jews. Since 1972, Congress has appropriated funds to help resettle Soviet Jews in Israel. Since 1992, $80 million has been earmarked for this purpose.
After the Soviet Union opened its gates, the trickle of immigrants became a flood immigration from that country skyrocketed from fewer than 13,000 people in 1989 to more than 185,000 in 1990. Israel then asked for a different type of help. The United States responded in 1990 by approving $400 million in loan guarantees to help Israel house its newcomers.
Guarantees are not grants not one penny of U.S. government funds is transferred to Israel. The U.S. simply cosigns loans for Israel that give bankers confidence to lend Israel money at more favorable terms: lower interest rates and longer repayment periods as much as 30 years instead of only five to seven. These loan guarantees have no effect on domestic programs or guarantees. Moreover, they have no impact on U.S. taxpayers unless Israel were to default on its loans, something it has never done. In addition, much of the money Israel borrows is spent in the United States to purchase American goods.
When it became clear the flood of refugees was even greater than anticipated, and tens of thousands continued to arrive every month, Israel realized it needed more help and asked the United States for an additional $10 billion in guarantees.
In 1992, Congress authorized the President to provide guarantees of loans to Israel made as a result of Israel's extraordinary humanitarian effort to resettle and absorb immigrants. These guarantees were made available in annual increments of $2 billion over five years. While the cost to the U.S. government was zero, Israel paid the United States annual fees amounting to several hundred million dollars to cover administrative and other costs.
Under existing guidelines, no U.S. foreign assistance to Israel can be used beyond Israel's pre-1967 borders. Moreover, to underline dissatisfaction with Israels settlement policies, the President was authorized to reduce the annual loan guarantees by the amount equal to the estimated value of Israeli activities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip undertaken the previous year.
Thus, as the table indicates, the State Department determined that Israel spent just under $1.4 billion for settlement activity from 1993-1996. The President was authorized, however, to rescind deductions when making the funds available to Israel was in the security interests of the United States. President Clinton used this authority in the last three years of the program, so the actual reduction in the amount of guarantees available to Israel was $773.8 million.
The money related to settlements also had nothing to do with the new immigrants, none of whom were forced to live in the territories. In fact, only a tiny percentage chose to do so.
By all measures, the U.S. loan guarantee program was a huge success. Israel used the borrowed funds primarily to increase the amount of foreign currency available to the countrys business sector and to support infrastructure projects, such as roads, bridges, sewage and electrical plants. The guarantees also helped Israel to provide housing and jobs for virtually all of the new immigrants. Unemployment among immigrants, which peaked at 35 percent, has dropped to 6 percent, roughly the same rate as for the rest of the population.
Besides contributing to Israel's success in absorbing immigrants while maintaining economic growth, the loan guarantee program also sent a strong message to the private international capital markets about the confidence the U.S. has in Israel's ability to bear this potential economic burden. Consequently, Israel's credit rating was upgraded and Israel can borrow hundreds of millions of dollars in international financial markets on its own.
Israel has no right to build homes in Har Homa because it is part of Arab East Jerusalem and is yet another settlement project that will impede peace.
Building in Har Homa represents the last phase of a larger municipal housing plan for the city of Jerusalem begun in 1968. The entire area of Har Homa is less than 460 acres. When the project began, it was completely vacant and is not adjacent to any Arab population.
The original decision to go forward with construction on Har Homa was made by Labor Prime Minister Shimon Peres in 1996; construction did not proceed because the issue was tied up in Israeli courts. The Israeli Supreme Court rejected appeals by both Jewish and Arab landowners and approved the expropriation of land for the project. The expropriations were undertaken on the basis of the fundamental common law principle of eminent domain, allowing governments to expropriate land from private owners for public use. Most of the land 75% was expropriated from Jews.
The construction plan was approved by the Netanyahu government after the Court's ruling to address a severe housing shortage among both Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem. The project will ultimately include 6,500 housing units, as well as schools, parks, public buildings and commercial and industrial zones. Construction plans for 3,015 housing units in 10 Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem will be implemented simultaneously with the Har Homa project.
Nothing in any of the agreements signed between the Palestinians and Israelis preclude building in Jerusalem. Both Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres made clear they had no intention of refraining from building in Jerusalem and never slowed down the pace of construction in the capital. Different sides of the Israeli political spectrum, including many Labor Party leaders, urged the Netanyahu government to proceed with the Har Homa project.
The Palestinians have also claimed that Har Homa will isolate them from the West Bank or limit their access to Jerusalem. When Har Homa is completed, however, considerable areas of territorial continuity between the Arab neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem and the Palestinian areas of the West Bank will remain. Palestinians will also have the same access to Jerusalem they presently enjoy.
The Mitchell Report made clear that Israeli settlement policy is as much to blame for the breakdown of the peace process as Palestinian violence and that a settlement freeze is necessary to end the violence.
In November 2000, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell was appointed to lead a fact-finding committee to investigate the cause of the "al-Aksa Intifada" and explore how to prevent future violence. The report his committee issued did recommend a settlement freeze as one of more than 15 different confidence-building measures but Mitchell and Warren Rudman, another member of the committee, made clear that settlement activity was in no way equated with Palestinian terrorism. They explicitly stated in a letter clarifying their view: "We want to go further and make it clear that we do not in any way equate Palestinian terrorism with Israeli settlement activity, 'seemingly' or otherwise."
Mitchell and Rudman also disputed the idea that the cessation of settlement construction and terrorism were linked. "The immediate aim must be to end the violence....Part of the effort to end the violence must include an immediate resumption of security cooperation between the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority aimed at preventing violence and combating terrorism." They added, "Regarding terrorism, we call upon the Palestinian Authority, as a confidence-building measure, to make clear through concrete action, to Israelis and Palestinians alike, that terror is reprehensible and unacceptable, and the Palestinian Authority is to make a total effort to prevent terrorist operations and to punish perpetrators acting in its jurisdiction."8
Anyone who defends settlements is rationalizing the perpetual occupation of the Palestinian people and their land.
While making a strong case for its right to the territories, the Israeli government also acknowledges that Palestinians have legitimate claims to the area and that a compromise can be reached through negotiations:
In 2004, Ariel Sharon proposed a plan to disengage from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank. That proposal also would lead to the removal of a number of settlements. At the same time, Sharon has made clear that large settlement blocs will remain intact. An estimated 80 percent of the settlers live in what are in effect suburbs of major Israeli cities such as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Virtually the entire Jewish population believes Israel must retain these areas to ensure its security, and that they could be brought within Israel's borders with minor modifications of the 1967 border.
Sharon singled out four specific settlement blocs that, by consensus, will ultimately be incorporated into Israel, and it is evident why when you take into account their populations: Ariel (16,000 in 2001 and now closer to 30,000 when surrounding communities are included), Maale Adumim (25,800 in 2001 and now closer to 40,000), Givat Zeev (10,500 in 2001), and the Etzion Bloc (15 communities with an approximate population of 20,000). These four blocs include more than 40 percent of the total Jewish population of the West Bank. It is inconceivable that Israel would evacuate such large cities, even after a peace agreement with the Palestinians, and Yasser Arafat grudgingly accepted at Camp David the idea that the large settlement blocs would be part of Israel.
The peace agreements Israel signed with the Palestinians prohibit settlement activity.
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).
The Red Cross has declared that Israeli settlements are a war crime.
The Jerusalem representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Rene Kosimik, on May 17, 2001, said, "The installation of a population of the occupying power in occupied territory is considered an illegal move, it is a grave breach. In principal it is a war crime." Rep. Eliot Engel protested to the President of the ICRC, Jakob Kellenberger, who replied, "The expression 'war crime' has not been used by the ICRC in relation to Israeli settlements in the occupied territories in the past and will not be used anymore in the present context." He added, "The reference made to it on May 17 was inappropriate and will not be repeated."12
“Israel’s plan to link Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim is meant to sabotage the peace process.”
In March 2005, Israel announced the intention to build 3,500 homes on a strip of territory that has been declared state land between the community of Ma'aleh Adumim and Jerusalem.14 The decision immediately caused an uproar as Palestinian officials claimed it was “a kind of terror against the peace process and against the Palestinian people” and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said it was at odds with U.S. policy.15
This is a good example of where it is important to understand not only the politics of the issue, but the geography.
Ma'aleh Adumim is a settlement in the West Bank. It is also a suburb of Israel's capital, barely three miles outside the city limits, a ten-minute drive away. Ma'aleh Adumim is not a recently constructed outpost on a hilltop; it is a 23-year-old community that is popular because it is clean, safe, and close to where many residents work. It is also the largest Jewish settlement in the territories, with a population of 32,000.
Because of its size and location, it is understood by both Israelis and Palestinians that Ma'aleh Adumim will not be dismantled or evacuated; it will be part of Israel after a peace agreement is reached. That is why the recently announced housing plan was conceived during Prime Minister Rabin's term. The development was part of his plan to link all of the large settlement blocs just outside Jerusalem's city limits.
To understand why the plan has the support of Israel's majors parties, just look at a map. If Ma'aleh Adumim is not linked to Jerusalem, the city would be an island. We hear a lot about Palestinian concerns about the contiguity of a future Palestinian state, but the same principal applies to the future boundaries of Israel.
Rendering of Clinton proposal showing
Ma'aleh Adumim incorporated
Why should it be a problem for Israel to fill in the empty gap between the city and this bedroom community? The corridor is approximately 3,250 acres and does not have any inhabitants, so no Palestinians will be displaced. And why shouldn't Israel be able to build in and around the city that the U.S. Congress said “should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel” and “should remain an undivided city”?
Given that Ma'aleh Adumim is the largest of these population centers, the decision to develop around the town seems consistent with the policy expressed in Bush's letter. It is also consistent, incidentally, with the Clinton plan.
Would the completion of the building project known as E-1 prevent the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state? Again, a look at the map shows that it would not. The security fence is being built roughly along the Green Line, and around the major settlement blocs, such as Ma'aleh Adumim, which are expected to be within the final negotiated borders of the state. The area of the West Bank beyond the fence is contiguous.
“Israel must dismantle all the settlements in the West Bank or peace is impossible.”
When serious negotiations begin over the final status of the West Bank, battle lines will be drawn over which settlements should be incorporated into Israel, and which must be evacuated. In August 2005, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon acknowledged that “not all the settlements that are today in Judea and Samaria will remain Israeli.”
In Gaza, Israel’s intent was always to withdraw completely, and no settlements were viewed as vital to Israel for economic, security, or demographic reasons. The situation in the West Bank is completely different because Jews have strong historic and religious connections to the area stretching back centuries. Moreover, the West Bank is an area with strategic significance because of its proximity to Israel’s heartland and the fact that roughly one-quarter of Israel’s water resources are located there.
The disengagement from Gaza involved only 21 settlements and approximately 8,000 Jews; more than 100 settlements with a population of roughly 250,000 are located in Judea and Samaria. Any new evacuation from the West Bank will involve another gut-wrenching decision that most settlers and their supporters will oppose with even greater ferocity than the Gaza disengagement. Most Israelis, however, favor withdrawing from small, isolated communities, and about half of the settlements have fewer than 500 residents.
Approximately two-thirds of the Jews in the West Bank live in five settlement “blocs” that are all near the 1967 border. Most Israelis believe these blocs should become part of Israel when final borders are drawn and Prime Minister Sharon has repeatedly said the large settlement blocs will “remain in our hands.” The table below lists the “consensus” settlements:
As the table shows, these are large communities with thousands of residents. Evacuating them would be the equivalent of dismantling major American cities the size of Maryland’s capital, Annapolis, Juneau, Alaska, or Augusta, Georgia.
Ma’ale Adumim is a suburb of Israel’s capital, barely three miles outside Jerusalem’s city limits, a ten-minute drive away. Ma’ale Adumim is not a recently constructed outpost on a hilltop; it is a 30-year-old community that is popular because it is clean, safe, and close to where many residents work. It is also the largest Jewish city in the territories, with a population of 27,300. Approximately 6,000 people live in surrounding settlements that are included in the Ma’ale bloc. Israel has long planned to fill in the empty gap between Jerusalem and this bedroom community (referred to as the E1 project). The corridor is approximately 3,250 acres and does not have any inhabitants, so no Palestinians would be displaced. According to the Clinton plan, Ma’ale was to be part of Israel.
The Gush Etzion Bloc consists of 18 communities with a population of more than 42,000 just 10 minutes from Jerusalem. Jews lived in this area prior to 1948, but the Jordanian Legion destroyed the settlements and killed 240 women and children during Israel’s War of Independence. After Israel recaptured the area in 1967, descendants of those early settlers reestablished the community. The largest of the settlements is the city of Betar Illit with more than 24,000 residents.
The Givat Ze’ev bloc includes five communities just northwest of Jerusalem. Givat Ze’ev, with a population of nearly 11,000, is by far the largest.
Modiin Illit is a bloc with four communities. The city of Modiin Illit is by far the largest with more than 26,000 people situated just over the Green Line, about 23 miles northwest of Jerusalem and the same distance east of Tel Aviv.
Ariel is now the heart of the second most populous bloc of settlements. The city is located just 25 miles east of Tel Aviv and 31 miles north of Jerusalem. Ariel and the surrounding communities expand Israel’s narrow waist (which was just 9 miles wide prior to 1967) and ensure that Israel has a land route to the Jordan Valley in case Israel needs to fight a land war to the east. It is more controversial than the other consensus settlements because it is the furthest from the 1949 Armistice Line, extending approximately 12 miles into the West Bank. Nevertheless, Barak’s proposal at Camp David included Ariel among the settlement blocs to be annexed to Israel; the Clinton plan also envisioned incorporating Ariel within the new borders of Israel.
Most peace plans assumed that Israel would annex sufficient territory to incorporate 75-80% of the Jews currently living in the West Bank. Using the figures in the table above, however, it appears that Israel would fall short of that demographic goal even if these six blocs were annexed. The total population of these communities is approximately 160,000, which is roughly 64% of the estimated 250,000 Jews living in Judea and Samaria. The expectation, however, is that roughly one-third of the Jews living in other settlements will move into these blocs, which would bring the total close to 80%, but still require Israel to evacuate another 50,000 people.
In 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said Israel would keep the settlement blocs of Ma’ale Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, and Gush Etzion. Prior to the 2000 Camp David Summit, even Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians could accept Israel holding onto Ma’ale Adumim and Givat Zeev.
At Camp David, Israel insisted that 80% of the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria would be in settlement blocs under Israeli sovereignty. President Clinton agreed and proposed that Israel annex 4-6 percent of the West Bank for three settlement blocs to accomplish this demographic objective and swap some territory within Israel in exchange.
Recognizing the demographics of the area, President Bush acknowledged the inevitability of some Israeli towns in the West Bank being annexed to Israel in his 2004 letter to Prime Minister Sharon. In his meeting a year later with Palestinian Authority President Abbas, however, he seemed to hedge his support by saying that any such decision would have to be mutually agreed to by Israelis and Palestinians. Nevertheless, the future border is likely to approximate the route of the security fence, given the Israeli prerequisite (with U.S. approval) of incorporating most settlers within Israel.
Would the incorporation of settlement blocs prevent the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state? A look at a map shows that it would not. The total area of these communities is only about 1.5% of the West Bank. A kidney-shaped state linked to the Gaza Strip by a secure passage would be contiguous. Some argue that the E1 project linking Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem would cutoff east Jerusalem, but even that is not necessarily true as Israel has proposed constructing a four-lane underpass to guarantee free passage between the West Bank and the Arab sections of Jerusalem.
Ultimately, Israel may decide to unilaterally engage from the West Bank and determine which settlements it will incorporate within the borders it delineates. Israel would prefer, however, to negotiate a peace treaty with the Palestinians that would specify which Jewish communities will remain intact within the mutually agreed border of Israel, and which will need to be evacuated. Israel will undoubtedly insist that some or all of the “consensus” blocs become part of Israel.
1American Journal of
International Law, (April, 1970), pp. 345-46.
*Map courtesy of Dennis Ross from his book, The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace. NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004.
To order the paperback edition, click HERE.