Palestine Monitor factsheet - Updated: 15 March 2010
"Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and an obstacle to peace and to economic and social development [... and] have been established in breach of international law."
International Court of Justice Ruling, July 9, 2004
Settlements: The Facts
There are currently 121 Israeli colonies, often referred to as "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). All of these settlements and outposts are illegal under international law and have been condemned by numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions. Israeli outposts are considered illegal under Israeli law.
These settlements and outposts are inhabited by a population of some 462,000 Israeli settlers. 191,000 Israelis are living in settlements around Jerusalem and a further 271,400 are further spread throughout the West Bank. The settler population has grown consistently between 4-6% per year over the last two decades, a much higher rate of growth than Israeli society as a whole (1.5%).
Approximately 385,000 settlers in 80 settlements will be located between the Separation Wall and the Green Line if Israel holds to projected plans.
In 2008, amidst the ‘settlement freeze’ agreed upon in the Annapolis framework, tenders for new settle-ment building increased by 550% from 2007. Actual settlement construction has increased by 30% since the launching of the new round of peace talks. Settlement building around Jerusalem has increased by a factor of 38.
A total of 9,000 further housing units have been approved in East Jerusalem, and approximately 2,600 new housing units are being built east of the Separation Wall, comprising 55% of all settlement construc-tion activity.
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 domi-nate more than 40 percent of the West Bank.
The Israeli settlements
The Israeli Settler movement has continued growing and expanding throughout the last few decades in spite of the international condemnation it has accrued for Israel, and regardless of which political party holds sway in Tel Aviv. That is to say that settlement building on the land occupied in 1967 is not a policy of either the right or the left; it is the policy of Israel. Even those in Israel who now loudly call for a swift two-state solution, for fear that it will soon become impossible, have done little or nothing to stop the expansion of settlements - even during the on-going Annapolis Peace Process.
- Making the desert bloom with concrete
- Picture: Palestine Monitor
Settlers and settlements compose one of the most difficult challenges to peace. Those who self-identify as settlers are ideologically committed to staying on their land regardless of what their government or military think. Many of these settlers have built their communities in areas far east of Israel proper and often far east of the illegal separation Wall that encloses the majority of illegal settlements. These settlers are often will-ing to use violence against both Israelis and Palestinians to have their way, and have stepped up their acts of terror and intimidation throughout the peace process.
Those settlers living in the blocks surrounding Jerusalem largely identify themselves as ‘economic settlers’, or those who have been enticed to settle in occupied lands by the variety of public and private incentives laid at their door. Ironically these settlers are the most willing to leave and repatriate back to Israel; while they are at the same time those settlements least likely to be conceded by Israel in negotiations.
It is important to remember that though the settlements and settlers themselves are significant obstacles to peace, the large security apparatus and infrastructure which unite them to Israel proper pose even more dif-ficult challenges, as by-pass roads between settlements slice the West Bank into a series of economically and politically isolated ‘bantustans’. Furthermore, settlements are often located in strategic areas which capture vital resouces such as water and agricultural land.
Israel’s continued insistence upon the legitimacy of the settler movement provides a tough challenge for negotiators who are able to recognize the inherent impossibility of maintaining nearly half a million hostile citizens of Israel in a future, highly incontiguous Palestinian state. Regardless of this reality, the movement continues to grow stronger and more determined day by day.
Settlement vs. Outpost
Since 1967, successive Israeli governments have established settlements in violation of international law; colonizing Palestinian territories in order to con-solidate and secure control of these areas and prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state.
Originally used to describe any new Jewish develop-ment in Israel, the term ‘settlements’ now refers to Jewish-only housing units built in strategic areas of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, on land occupied by Israel in 1967.
Most settlements begin as ‘outposts’. These are often composed of just a few families who live in caravans whilst awaiting infrastructure and financial support from the state and other sympathetic communities both inside Israel and abroad.
Of the more than 120 settlement outposts in the West Bank, 58 were established after March 2001. Only three have been dismantled since the Annapolis process began.
Moreover, Israel continues to speak of removing only “unauthorized” outposts (i.e., those estab-lished in violation of domestic Israeli law) and have identified only 26 which fit this description. Neither the Road Map, nor the successive UN resolu-tions, contain or respect Israel’s domestic distinction between legal and illegal settlements or outposts.
Settlements are linked to each other and to Israel by an extensive network of “bypass roads”.
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.
Whilst illegally built on confiscated Palestinian land, these roads are forbidden for use by Pales-tinians. They consolidate Israel’s creation of a sys-tem of Apartheid in the West Bank and fracture communities across Palestine.
In August of 2008 there were 794 kilometers of by-pass roads in the West Bank. To date it is unclear how many kilometers of road Israel is planning to build before it is finished. This is un-derstandable within the context of the on-going negotiations and the uncertainty that they pose for the future of many settlements.
For Palestinian use there are currently a number of roads being constructed to facilitate their move-ment in a way which will separate them from the settlers. To date, about 40 kilometres of “fabric of life” roads, including 44 tunnels and underpasses, were completed. In addition, some five kilometres are under construction and another 40 kilometres and 18 tunnels are planned.
Settlements are the cause of great inequalities in ac-cess to natural resources between Israelis and Palestin-ians. Many settlements are built on prime agricultural land confiscated from Palestinians, or over key water resources such as the Western Aquifer basin, springs and wells.
Israeli West Bank settlers domestically consume an amazing 280 liters of water per day, per person com-pared to 86 liters per day available for Palestinians in the West Bank - only 60 of which are considered po-table. The World Health Organization recommends a minimum of 100 liters per day – meaning that settlers utilize far more than double the water required, while Palestinians do not approach the minimum.
But only looking at domestic use is misleading. The brunt of water resources consumed by Israel are for farming and industrial purposes. When one looks at these numbers, the inequality between Israel and Palestinian resource sharing grows dramatically.
It is also misleading to look at the amount of land ac-tually ‘settled’ in the West Bank (3%), as opposed to the more than 40% of West Bank residential and vital agricultural land confiscated around the settlements themselves.
By stealing both the land and water resources from Palestine, the Israeli settlers and the Israeli state have literally made the ‘desert bloom’ whilst Palestinians are left with little of their own wealth by which to compete.
Settlers often carry out violent attacks against Pal-estinians and their property with complete legal immunity, and often with more than implicit sup-port from the military itself. In fact, Israeli soldiers often protect and assist settlers, and legal proceed-ings are rarely brought against them.
According to OCHA, 80-90% of the files opened against Israeli settlers following attacks on Pales-tinians and their property are regularly closed by the Israeli police without prosecution.
In the first eight months of 2008, there were a total of 112 people injured as a result of settler attacks. Nearly 80% of these incidents have occurred in the Hebron district.
However, as this book goes to print, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of settler attacks and murders coinciding with the Palestinian Olive Harvest. The ferocity and sheer number of such incidences have led to more calls within Israel to punish settler violence, but as of yet there has been no real effect on the ground.
Settlements and International Law
Israeli settlements are illegal under 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 Hague Convention stipulates “the occupying state shall be regarded only as administrator and usufructuary of public buildings, real estate, forests, and agricultural estates belonging to the hostile State, and situated in the occupied country. 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 465 (1980-unanimously adopted) made it clear that “Israel’s policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants” in the Occupied Territories constitutes “a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East”. The Security Council called upon Israel to “dismantle the existing settlements and in particular to cease, on an urgent ba-sis, the establishment, construction or planning of settlements in the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem”.
The 2004 ruling of the International Court of Justice in The Hague declared that “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and an obstacle to peace and to eco-nomic and social development”.
Settlements in the Annapolis Process
At the Annapolis Conference Israel and the Palestinians renewed their respective commitments under the Road Map. Chief among Israel’s obligations are “[freezing] all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements)” and “immediately [dismantling] settlement outposts erected since March 2001”.
Despite Israel’s commitment during the Annapolis Summit to freeze all settlement activity, construction has continued and almost doubled in all of the settlements and outposts on both sides of the Separation Barrier. “Since Annapolis, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other senior Israeli officials have repeatedly made clear that Israel would not implement a genuine settlement freeze. Among other things, Olmert has said that Israel would continue building in settlements in and around East Jerusalem as well as in the so-called settlement ‘blocs’, thus effectively negating the very purpose of the freeze. Moreover, de-spite clarification by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that “the United States doesn’t make a distinction” between settlement activity in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, Israeli officials continue to make unilateral exemptions to their settlement freeze obligations”.