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Debate: Israeli settlements

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Are settlements justified? Is expansion defensible or should it be halted, settlements disabled?

Background and context

Israeli settlements are communities inhabited by Israelis in territory that was captured during the 1967 Six-Day War. Such settlements currently exist in the West Bank, which is partially under Israeli military administration[1] and partially under the control of the Palestinian National Authority, and in the Golan Heights, which are under Israeli civilian administration.

International bodies, including the United Nations Security Council, the International Court of Justice, the European Union, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and some legal scholars have characterized the settlements as a violation of international law. Israel, the Anti-Defamation League, and other legal scholars disagree with this assessment. (See Legal background)

See Israeli settlement for more background.

Peace process: Do Israeli settlements help or hamper the peace process?


  • Israeli settlements do not impede creation of Palestine Elliott Abrams. "The Settlement Freeze Fallacy". The Washington Post. April 8, 2009: "Is current and recent settlement construction creating insurmountable barriers to peace? A simple test shows that it is not. Ten years ago, in the Camp David talks, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat approximately 94 percent of the West Bank, with a land swap to make up half of the 6 percent Israel would keep. According to news reports, just three months ago, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered 93 percent, with a one-to-one land swap. In the end, under the January 2009 offer, Palestinians would have received an area equal to 98 to 98.5 percent of the West Bank (depending on which press report you read), while 10 years ago they were offered 97 percent. Ten years of settlement activity would have resulted in a larger area for the Palestinian state."
  • Jewish settlements are not part of any "occupation". Michael Freund. "Israel Has Every Right to Expand Settlements". The Chicago Sun-Times. May 15, 2002: "Israel did not 'occupy' these territories, as the Palestinians and others would have you believe. In the 1967 Six-Day War, Arab armies massed on Israel's narrow borders, vowing to destroy the Jewish state. In a war of self-defense, Israel succeeded in overcoming its enemies, in the process taking control over Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Under international law, territories are considered 'occupied' only when they are taken in an act of aggression - something which clearly does not apply to Israel's case."
  • Jews have a historical right to settle in West Bank and Gaza. Michael Freund. "Israel Has Every Right to Expand Settlements". The Chicago Sun-Times. May 15, 2002: "It was 35 years ago this month that Israel prevailed in the 1967 war, returning to places such as Hebron and Shilo. For two thousand uninterrupted years, Jews had lived in the ancient Jewish quarter of Hebron, near the Tomb of the Patriarchs where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are buried. Only in 1929, when local Arabs massacred them, was the Jewish community forced to flee the city. What could be more historically just than to rebuild the Jewish presence there? [...] Jews have a moral, legal, historical and Biblical right to settle the territories. Israel's settlements matter, then, because they are at the forefront of righting a historical wrong, one in which Jews were previously barred from living in their ancestral homeland due to Arab rejectionism and hatred."


  • Israeli settlements impede creation of Palestinian state. Gregory Eow. "Israel Must Give Up the West Bank Settlements". Washington Post Editorial. April 11, 2009: "Previously, we had thought it was Palestinian intransigence that prevented a two-state solution. A look at the settlements demolishes this explanation. The settlements and the maze of Israelis-only roads and military checkpoints to sustain them makes clear that successive Israeli governments -- Labor and Likud alike, as Mr. Abrams noted -- have actively pursued policies aimed at colonizing the West Bank. [...] That prevents the establishment of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state"
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner: "Nothing justifies the settlement expansion which constitutes an impediment to peace, as well as an obstacle obstructing the development of the Palestinian economy."[1]
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton: "We think it is in the best interests (of the peace process) that settlement expansion cease. That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly. [...] And we intend to press that point."[2]
  • Settlement activities damage negotiations. Condoleezza Rice said in a November 7th, 2008 visit to the West Bank: "Settlement activity, both actions and announcements, is damaging for the atmosphere of negotiations. And the party's actions should be encouraging confidence, not undermining it. And no party should take steps that could prejudice the outcome of negotiations."[3]
  • Israeli monopoly on force ensures settlements are enforced unlawfully. Stephanie Kuory. "Israeli Settlements Illegal and Getting Worse". The Middle East Research and Information Project. September 24, 2005: "Settlements are constructed under Israeli military or private security protection. Israel's Ministry of Defense provides weapons to settlers, which are then used by militants to harass Palestinians into vacating their land. Reports on settler violence by B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, document that settlers fear little or no retribution from Israeli law enforcement because of a history of superficial investigations -- only 8 percent of Palestinian complaints are probed -- and light sentencing or pardons for the few settlers ever convicted. The same reports note that Israeli military and police often do not intervene to prevent attacks although they are present at the time."

International law: Are settlements lawful under international law?


  • Jews (like any race) have right to live in Palestinian territory. Michael Freund. "Israel Has Every Right to Expand Settlements". The Chicago Sun-Times. May 15, 2002: "Indeed, there is something very troubling about the fact that a US Secretary of State would object to the erection of a house based on the religious or ethnic identity of its owner. In the olden days, we had a word for such views - it was called racism. And segregation. [...] To deny people the right to live in a certain area because they are Jews is no different from denying African-Americans or Hispanics or any other ethnic group the right to live where they please. And to suggest that the exercise of that right is somehow an "obstacle to peace" and must be halted is to capitulate to the haters and allow them to dictate who may live where. We can not allow that to happen."


  • Israeli settlements violate international law on war and occupation. "Land Grab: Israel's Settlement Policy in the West Bank". The Israeli information Center for Human Rights. May 2002: "International Law. The establishment of settlements on the West Bank violates international humanitarian law, which establishes the principles applying during war and occupation. International humanitarian law prohibits the occupying power to transfer citizens from its own territory to the occupied territory (Fourth Geneva Convention, article 49). The Hague Regulations prohibit the occupying power to undertake permanent changes in the occupied area, unless these are due to military needs in the narrow sense of the term, or unless they are undertaken for the benefit of the local population."
  • Israel is exploiting sham legal tools to justify settlements. "Land Grab: Israel's Settlement Policy in the West Bank". The Israeli information Center for Human Rights. May 2002: "Particularly evident is Israel's manipulative use of legal tools in order to give the settlement enterprise an impression of legality. When Jordanian legislation served Israel's goals, Israel adhered to this legislation, arguing that international law obliges it to respect the legislation in effect prior to the occupation; in practice, this legislation was used in a cynical and biased manner. On the other hand, when this legislation interfered with Israel's plans, it was changed in a cavalier manner through military legislation and Israel established new rules to serve its interests."

Natural expansion: Is the "natural expansion" of settlements justified?


  • Israeli settlements should be able to expand "naturally". The "natural expansion" of Israeli settlements is important to allow. This is a situation in which population growth as well as modest immigration into settlements expands a settlement, modestly. It is instructive to consider what it would mean to "freeze" such "natural expansion". It would almost necessarily mean placing limits on the number of offspring couples could have as well as the number of jews that can immigrate into a settlement. This is practically infeasible. And, for this reason, the "natural expansion" of Israeli settlements should be allowed.


  • Israel's legal mechanisms for settlements violate due process. "Land Grab: Israel's Settlement Policy in the West Bank". The Israeli information Center for Human Rights. May 2002: "The principal tool used to take control of land is to declare it "state land.” This process began in 1979, and is based on a manipulative implementation of the Ottoman Lands Law of 1858, which applied in the area at the time of occupation. Other methods employed by Israel to take control of land include seizure for military needs, declaration of land as "abandoned assets,” and the expropriation of land for public needs. Each of these are based on a different legal foundation. In addition, Israel has assisted private citizens purchasing land on the "free market.” [...] The process employed in taking control of land breaches the basic principles of due procedure and natural justice. In many cases, Palestinian residents were unaware that their land was registered in the name of the state, and by the time they discovered this fact, it was too late to appeal. The burden of proof always rests with the Palestinian claiming ownership of the land. Even if he meets this burden, the land may still be registered in the name of the state on the grounds that it was transferred to the settlement 'in good faith.'"
  • Israel encourages settlements; they are not growing "naturally". "Land Grab: Israel's Settlement Policy in the West Bank". The Israeli information Center for Human Rights. May 2002: "The Israeli governments have implemented a consistent and systematic policy intended to encourage Jewish citizens to migrate to the West Bank. One of the tools used to this end is to grant financial benefits and incentives to citizens - both directly and through the Jewish local authorities. The purpose of this support is to raise the standard of living of these citizens and to encourage migration to the West Bank." It is difficult, therefore, for Israelis to say that the "natural expansion" of settlements is justified and should remain into the future. There is nothing "natural" about the growth of Israeli settlements; it has been directly encouraged by the state. All future requests to allow the "natural growth" of such settlements should, therefore, be met with significant skepticism and doubt.




  • Settlements undercuts Palestinian right to control their land. Stephanie Kuory. "Israeli Settlements Illegal and Getting Worse". The Middle East Research and Information Project. September 24, 2005: "While expanding settlements Israel simultaneously contains Palestinian development. It unlawfully confiscates property, denies Palestinians the right to register their land and restricts Palestinian growth to limited areas, thereby reserving available land for settlement expansion. In order to ensure Israeli citizens have access to their settlements, Palestinians face restrictions on movement, including 600 physical barriers on West Bank roads, and endure long waits at checkpoints."

Pro/con sources



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