For more than thirty years, the creation of Jewish settlements has been a central component of Israel's effort to consolidate control over the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Israeli settlement construction has served not only to facilitate territorial acquisition and to justify the continuing presence of Israel armed forces on Palestinian lands, but also to limit the territorial contiguity of areas populated by Palestinians and thereby to preclude the establishment of a viable independent Palestinian state.
What Are Israeli Settlements?
By their very nature, settlements are discriminatory. The right to live in most settlements is restricted to Jews, many of whom are given substantial government subsidies as an incentive. In stark contrast to the underdevelopment of areas populated by Palestinians, settlements also benefit from massive Israeli investment in roads and other infrastructure. Palestinian residents of the occupied territories on whose land the settlements were established are denied access both to settlements and to the infrastructure that serves them. This principle of separation extends to virtually all areas of life. The Israeli government has set up legal and judicial systems specific to the settlements whereby settlers are subject to a separate set of courts and laws than neighboring Palestinian towns and villages. Similarly, Israeli settlements are given preferential access to the superior water resources that typically lie beneath them.
In addition, the geographic placement of settlements, the prohibition of Palestinian development on adjacent lands (ostensibly for security reasons), and the construction of bypass roads linking settlements to one another and to Israel have placed severe burdens on Palestinians' freedom of movement - dividing the West Bank into isolated cantons - and have stifled the natural development of Palestinian towns and villages.
The International Consensus Against Settlements
Israel's settlement policy and practices clearly contravene international law. Article 49, paragraph 6 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states provides "the occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territories it occupies." Moreover, the confiscation of land for settlement construction is in violation of the rules contained in the 1907 Hague Regulations protecting public and private property in occupied territory.
Settlement activity is also fundamentally incompatible with the concept of a "just and lasting peace" called for in United Nations Security Council Resolution 242. In Resolution 465, which was unanimously adopted, the Security Council made clear that "Israel's policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants" in the occupied territories not only violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, but also constitute "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 basis, the establishment, construction of planning of settlements in the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem."
Burdens on Palestinian Development
Palestinian opposition to settlements is based not only legal and historical factors, but also on concrete geographic, demographic, developmental and constitutional considerations.
A sizable, contiguous territory is a prerequisite for the economic, social and political viability of the Palestinian state. During the Interim Period, the presence of the 175 settlements scattered throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has fundamentally compromised the Palestinian Authority's ability to control its borders, to provide for the security of the Palestinian people, and to facilitate economic growth and development.
The Palestinian population is growing rapidly and needs space. The combined population of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip in 2000 was approximately 3,300,000 That figure is expected to increase to almost 5 million by the year 2010-without taking into consideration returning displaced persons. As a reference point, Israel's 1990 population was less than 5 million-and Israel is more than three times as large as the West Bank and Gaza Strip combined. The population of Palestinians in diaspora exceeds 4 million-the vast majority of whom reside in other Arab countries. If some of these Palestinians choose to come to the Palestinian state instead of exercising their right to return to Israel, it would place an added population burden on Palestinian territory.
If allowed to remain in place, settlements and bypass roads would severely constrain the natural growth of Palestinian cities, towns and villages and fragment Palestinian territory. For example, Arab East Jerusalem is entirely surrounded by Jewish settlements, while Ramallah is prevented from growing northward and eastward by the Bet El and Psagot settlements, respectively. Settlements would also dilute the economic resources of the state of Palestine, prejudice its access to natural resources such as water, reduce its ability to absorb immigrants, destroy its agricultural character and physical cohesion, and weaken its capacity for self-defense -ultimately disabling its survival.
The Palestinian Position
In sum, Israeli settlements place intolerable burdens on Palestinian movement and development, they institutionalize prejudice and discrimination, they deprive the Palestinian people of important land and water resources, and they are plainly illegal. If the just and lasting peace envisaged in UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 is to come to fruition, then settlements must be dismantled.