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Israeli settlement

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(The neutrality of this article is disputed.)

Since 1967, Israel has constructed numerous Jewish urban settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territories much of which is under Israeli military ocupation.

The settlements have been declared illegal under international law by numerous parties, including the US and European governments and the UN. See Palestinian territories for a proper discussion.

As of November 2000, just under 400,000 Israelis lived in settlements on the West Bank, Gaza, Eastern Jerusalem and Golan, according to Israeli government statistics. The size of this number is controversial, as it includes a large number of Israeli citizens who live within East Jerusalem, which Palestinian Arabs claim as their own. A map of the Israeli settlements as of 2002 can be found here (http://www.biu.ac.il/SOC/besa/publications/maps/settleme.htm).

Since the Oslo Accords 1993 the settlers' number on the West Bank and Gaza (excluding East Jerusalem) has almost doubled, from 115,000 to 200,000. This increasingly made normal daily life impossible for the native Palestinian population.

Table of contents

The settlements The main controversy is around the great majority of the settlements, which stand on land that was not in Jewish hands prior to the Six-Day War.

Israel claims that the majority of the land currently taken by the new settlements was either vacant, belonging to the state (from which it was leased) or bought fairly from the Palestinians. Many argue, however, that vacant land had either belonged to Palestinians who had fled or was communal land, that had belonged collectively to an entire village. That practice had formed under Otmanian rule, although the British and the Jordanians have unsuccessfully tried to stop it since the late 1920s.

The Palestinians and B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, claim that the Israeli government used the absence of modern legal documents for the communal land as an excuse to seize it. Altogether, around 42% of the area of the West Bank (total of about 2,400 sq. km.) is controlled by Israeli settlers (see Map (http://www.btselem.org/English/Publications/Summaries/Land_Grab_Map.asp), MS Word format report (http://www.btselem.org/Download/Land_Grab_Eng.doc) and these summaries of the report: [1] (http://www.khsnsw.org/updates/200205/a_new_report_says_that_israel_has%20seized%2042%25%20of%20west%20bank.htm) [2] (http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,2763,715564,00)). Of that, about 4% is built up, the rest being empty land assigned by Israel to Settlement Councils. About 3 sq. km. of Palestinian-owned olive trees were destroyed by Israel as a part of the seizures.

Palestinians sometimes prefer to use the word "colonies" for these Israeli enclaves. Israel says that the term is inappropriate; unlike the traditional concept of overseas colonies, the settlements are in most cases only several miles away from their cities. Others feel that the word is appropriate as it highlights the nature of the enclaves. This is a semantics, but serves as an example of the nature of the conflict at many levels of diplomacy.

Although the settlements themselves only amount to a few percent of the territory, their impact is greater than this figure suggests. Firstly, surrounding territories are typically under the control of the settlements, bringing the total area under Israeli control to 40% of the land, according to B'Tselem. Also, settlements are connected by highways accessible to Israelis only. Palestinian property, including houses and crops, such as olive groves, has been altered, claimed, or destroyed when building these roads. Finally, in many cases, passing over the highways can only be done at special check points, which are controlled by the IDF. This practice separates communities and is a source of continuing humiliation and anger among ordinary Palestinians.

Israel holds that much of this separation is a necessary defense against the terrorist tactics assumed by Palestinians; thus Israel has removed Palestinian structures and trees because they are frequently used by gunmen for road-side ambushes. However, other checkpoints were erected before the Intifada and Palestinians claim that the purpose was to encircle and encroach upon Palestinian territory.

The international community is not divided on this issue. There have been dozens of UN Security council[?] sanctions or attempts to sanction Israel. Most of these were nearly unanimous, with the exception of the ones vetoed or abstained by the United States. Many Israelis hold that most of these sanctions are motivated by anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, as similar actions by many other UN members states have never received even one UN Security Council sanctions. Given this imbalance, many Israelis believe that the UN resolutions have no legal or moral authority.

International and Legal background Often, the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbids an occupying country from moving its citizens into the territory, has been claimed by the Palestinians as a legal defense. Israel, in return, argues that West Bank and Gaza do not constitute occupied territories in any sense of the word, and hence deny the de-jure applicability of the Geneva conventions to them. This view is not supported by any other country. In particular, the USA, the UK, the EU and the United Nations have stated that they consider the Fourth Geneva Convention to be fully applicable [3] (http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2001/nea/8262.htm) [4] (http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm200102/cmhansrd/cm020510/text/20510w11.htm)[5] (http://www.lawsociety.org/Reports/reports/1999/geneva4).

These settlements have been declared to be illegal by the UN Security Council (Resolution 446), and Israel has been asked by that resolution to cease further settlement activity. Resolution 465 (1980) (http://www.un.org/Depts/dpa/qpal/docs/S_RES_465.htm) declared that Israel's policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants in territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, constitutes a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. However, when Arab nations previously invaded and occupied these territories, the UN Security Council refused to isses any resolutions against this activity. Many Israelies and Jews outside Israel have concluded that the actions they have engaged in are thus legal and defensible, and that Anti-Semitism is the real reason behind the huge number of anti-Israel resolutions.

Since resolutions 446 and 465 were not made under Chapter VI or VII of the United Nations Charter, Israel argues that it is purely an advisory request, and chose not to fulfill it. The issue of the legal status of resolutions of the UN Security Council not made under Chapters VI or VII of the Charter is controversial in international law -- some accept Israel's argument, others reject it, and consider the resolution to be legally binding on Israel.

Armistice agreements in effect at the time of the 1967 Six-Day War were violated by the Arab states when they declared war, rendering the existing cease fire lines meaningless. Thus there is no effective border between Israel and the former Jordanian, Egyptian, and Syrian territories within the former Palestine mandate. The settlements are not within an occupied territory. However, for this region alone this view is not accepted de-jure by the international community, even though in similar cases across the globe this view is accepted as normative. The current international consensus is that there should be new borders, defined by multilateral negotiations (see UN Security Council Resolution 242); this supports the Israeli's viewpoint.

The territories in question were never legally a part of Jordan and Egypt, these countries' control over them after the 1948 Arab Israeli-War[?] being internationally declared illegal. Moreover, these territories are no longer even claimed by these countries - both have withdrawn their claims as parts of their peace agreements with Israel. Therefore Israel holds that it is impossible to define these lands as "occupied", and denies the de-jure applicability of the Geneva Conventions to them. Palestinians reason that Jordan withdrew its claims so that a Palestinian Arab state could be established there -- not for Israeli settlements. To that, Israel replies that the stance of both Jordan and Egypt on this issue was that it was to be resolved bilaterally by Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel further points out that in the Oslo accords, the Palestinians accepted at least the temporary presence of Israeli settlements; therefore the violent attacks carried out by Palestinians against settlements are not only wrong because of settlers' being civilians, but also are in fact breach of a mutual agreement put down in the form of Oslo Accords. Some moderate Palestinians agree that violence is unacceptable. However, all but a tiny minority support attacks against Israeli settlers.

Political Issues The settlements have on several occasions been a source of tension between Israel and the U.S. In 1991 there was a clash between the Bush administration and Israel, where the U.S. delayed a subsidized loan in order to pressure Israel not to proceed with the establishment of settlements for instance in the Jerusalem-Bethlehem corridor. Jimmy Carter has said that the settlements consitute a major obstacle to peace. The current Bush administration, while generally being supportive of Israel, has said that settlements are "unhelpful" to the peace process. Generally, these U.S. efforts have at most temporarily delayed further expansion of Israeli settlements. It should also be noted that U.S. public opinion is divided, with many strongly supporting the Israeli position, while public opinion outside the U.S. and Israel often strongly opposes the settlements.

Palestinians argue that Israel has violated the Oslo accords by continuing to expand the settlements after the signing of the accords; Israel argues that it has not constructed new settlements, but rather made improvements to or expanded settlements already existing, in order to accommodate "natural growth". Palestinians claim that such "natural growth" settlements often are established well away from any previously existing settlements, and have far exceeded the actual natural growth of those settlements. Palestinians and other Arab states also accuse Israel of attacking refugee camps and villages in an attempt to scare off Palestinians and claim the land as theirs.

Israel previously also had settlements in the Sinai, but these where withdrawn as a result of the peace agreement with Egypt. Most proposals for achieving a final settlement of the Middle East conflict involve Israel dismantling a large number of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza strip. A poll conducted by Peace Now in July 2002 indicates that up to two-thirds of the settler population would agree to evacuate, provided that it is done as a result of a democratically-made and accepted decision by the Israeli government, while the rest would refuse to leave peacefully.

Most Israeli and US proposals for final settlement have also involved Israel being allowed to retain settlements near Israel proper and in East Jerusalem (the majority of the settler population is near the Green Line), with Israel annexing the land on which the settlements are located. This would result in a transfer of roughly 5% of the West Bank to Israel, with the Palestinians being compensated by the transfer of a similar share of Israeli territory (i.e. territory behind the Green Line) to the Palestinian state.

Palestinians complain that the land offered in exchange is situated in the Judean desert, while the areas that Israel seeks to retain are considered to be among the West Bank's most fertile areas; to this Israel replies that if the current Green line is fully retained, Israel would have at some points no more than 17 kilometers from the border to the sea, which is widely considered an immense security risk. However, this is an issue that is separate from the discussion of settlements. For more details about the issues at stake, see Proposals for a Palestinian state.

Topics that need more discussion

  • the origin of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Gaza and Sinai.
  • the historical, social and political context in which these settlements were created.
  • The political and religious motivations of the settlers. Note that many people simply move to settlements for tax purposes.
  • The willingnes of Israel to remove all settlements in the Sinai once a peace treaty with Egypt was signed.
  • The radical side of the settler movement, and also the more moderate side.

See an unofficial Israeli position paper (http://www.jcpa.org/jl/vp470.htm) on this issue. See an official Palestinian position paper (http://www.nad-plo.org/permanent/settlements) on this issue. An analysis (http://www.cartercenter.org/viewdoc.asp?docID=137&submenu=news) by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter.

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