Israeli Settlements

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Towns and villages built since the 1967 ArabIsrael war on lands captured and occupied by Israel.

Since the 1967 ArabIsrael War, successive Israeli governments have promoted the settlement (colonization) of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Israeli citizens. By 2003, there were in excess of 200,000 settlers residing in a number of villages and townships throughout those areas and at least the same number in the suburbs of east Jerusalem.

The first phase in West Bank settlement activity took place under the Labor governments that remained in power until 1977. Known as the Allon Plan, after its initiator Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Allon, the settlement blueprint was a minimalist one aimed at constructing a line of agricultural settlements along the new eastern border in the Jordan valley. This was part of a concept that assumed that

settlement localities and population, 2001
settlement typenumber of settlements (west bank and gaza strip)population
source: central bureau of statistics, statistical abstract of israel, 2002, table 2.9.
table by ggs information services, the gale group.
rural communal6941,700
rural kibbutzim91,800
rural moshavim328,800
total rural population12062,000
urban 2,0009,9991457,500
urban 10,00019,999463,000
urban 20,00049,999125,800
total urban population19146,300
grand total139208,300

civilian settlements contributed to the defensive posture of the country and that it was necessary to ensure defensible borders between Israel and Jordan. The Allon Plan also proposed the establishment of additional settlements around Jerusalem and in close proximity to the Green Line border as a means of ensuring future territorial changes in favor of Israel. The rest of the West Bank region was deemed unsuitable for settlement because of the dense concentration of Palestinian population, unlike the Jordan valley, which was sparsely populated. Allon envisaged a situation in which the rest of the West Bank would eventually be part of an autonomous area under Jordanian administration and linked to the Kingdom of Jordan by means of a territorial corridor running from Ramallah via Jericho (the only major Palestinian population center in the Jordan Valley) to the border crossings on the Jordan River.

Following the ArabIsrael War of October 1973, a new religious nationalist movement, Gush Emunim ("Bloc of the Faithful"), was established with the objective of promoting settlement throughout the West Bank and Gaza. They saw this as a means of extending Israeli control over the whole of the historic Greater Israel ("Eretz Yisrael ha-Shelemah").
They criticized the Allon plan for being minimalist and too compromising in its territorial claims. Their settlement blueprint was rejected by the Rabin government of the time, but was later accepted in 1977 following the rise to power of Israel's first right-wing Likud government under the leadership of Menachem Begin.

Settlement activity took off vigorously in the early 1980s when the planning regulations and restrictions were lifted to make it easier to create suburban communities as an alternative to agricultural and socially controlled small settlements. Under the slogan of "five minutes from Kfar Saba," Israelis were now able to build detached houses on large land plots which they received at a low cost and, at the same time, retain their places of employment in the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem metropolitan centers. During the 1980s and 1990s, the road and transportation infrastructure linking Israel to the West Bank was improved, thus enhancing the appeal of the region for many Israelis who were attracted to settle there for economic rather than ideological or political reasons.

Following the first National Unity government of 1984, the Israeli cabinet announced a freeze on all new settlement activity. But, despite this and similar announcements by subsequent governments, settlement activity continued unabated, even under the pro-peace administrations of Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak. At the most, there were periods in which no new settlements were constructed, but the expansion and consolidation of existing communities to allow for "natural growth" never ceased. Under the Ariel Sharon administration after February 2001, militant settlers constructed new settlement outposts on their own initiative. These were deemed illegal by the government as a means to differentiate them from the so-called "legal" settlements and were forcibly removed in an attempt to appease international criticism of settlement activity.

The settlements are organized in a system of small towns (some of them, such as Ariel, Emanuel, and Maʿaleh Adumim, consist of over 20,000 inhabitants each) and villages. A system of municipal regional and local councils, similar to that in operation inside Israel itself, caters to their daily needs in the areas of public services, schools, health clinics, and welfare services. This system of local government operates totally independently and separately from the parallel, but much poorer, system that continued to function for the majority Palestinian population of the region.

The establishment of the settlements has resulted in the expropriation of much Palestinian land in both the public and private domain. Israeli high court rulings at the end of the 1970s warned against the use of private land for such purposes, but there are differences of opinion concerning just what is private and what is public land. Under international law, even the use of public land in occupied territories can only be justified for bona fide defensive purposes, not for the sake of civilian settlement activity. Security problems during the Al-Aqsa intifada that broke out in September 2000 led Israel to destroy Palestinian olive groves, orchards, and other agricultural assets in attempts to enhance the safety of the settlers and their families. Similar concerns have also resulted in the construction of bypass and controlled-access roads throughout the region, enabling settlers to reach their homes without having to drive through the Palestinian towns and villages while causing disruptions to the normal movement of Palestinians.

The issue of settlements has been a major point for discussion in all negotiations aimed at bringing an end to the conflict. Most observers agree that any future peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians based on territorial compromise will necessitate the evacuation and removal of most, if not all, of these settlements. The inconclusive territorial negotiations that accompanied the Oslo Accords either ignored the settlement issue altogether or attempted to redraw the borders in such a way as to include as many settlements on the Israeli side of the borderwhether in exchange for territory elsewhere or as out-and-out annexation. The building of a unilaterally imposed security wall begun in 2002 in effect implemented this policy on the ground.

see also allon, yigal; gush emunim.


Newman, David. "The Evolution of a Political Landscape: Geographical and Territorial Implications of Jewish Colonization in the West Bank." Middle Eastern Studies 21, no. 2 (1985), 192205.

Newman, David. "The Territorial Politics of Exurbanisation: Reflections on Thirty Years of Jewish Settlement in the West Bank." Israel Affairs 3, no. 1(1996): 6185.

david newman

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Israeli Settlements

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