The Role of the Settlements in the Peace Process
The role of the settlements in the context of the current conflict,
and in the contentious issue of applying the Road Map to future
peace negotiations, is perhaps the most complex and difficult issue to deal
with. This is precisely because Arab propaganda has been so effective in
establishing as axiomatic that the settlements are:
A symptom of Israels intent on conquest of Palestinian land and are
thus inherently an obstacle to peace
A harbinger of Israels permanent occupation of the West Bank and Gaza
Strip and hence make territorial compromise impossible
Signal Israels inherently obvious unwillingness to negotiate a fair
Therefore, it will be most useful to look at these Arab contentions,
and see how they correspond to historical reality.
Are the settlements illegal? We have already seen that they are not.
Are the settlements an obstacle to peace? From 1949-1967 there were no
settlements in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. Nor was there peace.
Arab belligerence was unrelated to West Bank and Gaza settlements.
The settlements to which the Arabs objected at that time were Tel
Aviv, Haifa, Hadera, Afula, etc.
In June, 1967, immediately after the Six Day War, and before there
were any Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel proposed
its dramatic peace initiative both at the UN and in sub rosa talks with Jordan.
This initiative was rejected by all Arab states and the PLO at the Khartoum
Conference in August-September, 1967. The obstacle to peace was the very
existence of Israel, not settlements in the West Bank.
In 1979, as part of the accord with Egypt, Israeli settlements in
Sinai were evacuated. In the context of a peace treaty, settlements are
negotiable, can be, and were, dismantled.
In 1979, as part of the accord with Egypt, Israel froze settlement
expansion for three months, in order to encourage entry of Jordan into the
Egypt-Israel peace process. Jordan refused. The freezing of settlements did
not stimulate peaceful interaction. Arafat (then engaged in creating a terrorist
state in south Lebanon) was invited to join Egypt at the peace talks, and
this settlement freeze was intended to encourage his participation. He refused.
The existence of settlements in Sinai did not interfere with the Israel-Egypt
peace accords; and the freeze on settlement activities did not encourage
Jordan or the PLO to enter into peace accords.
In 1994, Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel, while settlements
in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were growing in size and increasing in number.
The existence and expansion of the settlements in no way impaired the peace
process with Jordan.
Do the settlements make territorial compromise impossible?
The accords discussed at Madrid, Wye, Oslo and Taba all include
the acknowledgement that settlements (a few, some, many, probably not all)
will be dismantled in the context of a peace agreement.
Those accords were discussed while settlements were expanding.
Settlements did not impede negotiation then.
Currently, about 250,000 Jews live in a total of 144 communities scattered
through the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 80% of them could be brought within
Israels pre-1967 borders with only a very minor rearranging of green
Part of Baraks offer to Arafat in 2000 was the exchange of land
such that the Palestinians would be compensated for the small number of
settlements that would not be dismantled by the ceding of Israeli land within
the pre-1967 boundaries to the Palestine National Authority.
This offer was in addition to the approximately 95% of all the disputed
land in the West Bank and 100% of the territory in Gaza which were to be
under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Arafat rejected this offer,
much to the surprise and chagrin of President Clinton.
Does Israels violation of international accords by building
the settlements show Israels unwillingness to negotiate a fair peace?
In regard to the Geneva Convention and UN Resolution 242, we have seen that
the settlements do not constitute violations of international law. Therefore,
this argument is a red herring.
The Camp David accords called for a 3-month moratorium on settlements.
Prime Minister Menahem Begin kept this agreement.
The Oslo Accords say nothing about settlements. It was tacitly and
informally agreed upon that a moratorium on settlements would be one of 16
confidence building measures that Israel and the PNA would undertake.
The provision about not changing the status of the territories
refers to the agreement that neither side would unilaterally annex the areas
(or declare them an independent state).
In the presence of glaring, overt, and provocative violations of every
one of the Oslo Accords by the Palestine National Authority almost immediately
after its signing, Prime Minister Netanyahus government felt itself
under no obligation to maintain the tacit informal agreement. Since the Palestine
National Authority was not building confidence by ending terrorist attacks
(it was actually behind them), why should Israel compromise its security
and position for future negotiation?
While Israel has built a total of 144 settlements in the West Bank
and Gaza, more than 260 new Palestinian settlements have been constructed.
These serve as testimony to the flourishing of the West Banks economy
and the growth of Palestinian population under Israeli control (1967-1994),
contrary to the Arab allegations that Israel has perpetrated genocide and
crippled the economy of the West Bank.
By what logic would anyone suggest that these Palestinian settlements
are any less a threat to negotiations or a change of status of the territories
than are the Israeli ones?
Summing up: All the settlements except those of the rogue variety
are legal. Their growth and expansion have contributed substantially to the
economic improvement of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
When there were no settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, no
territorial compromises or peace settlements were reached. Later territorial
compromises and peace agreements have been reached despite the existence
of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israels settlements
violate no international accords. Therefore, it is irrational to suggest
that Israeli settlement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip prevent peace. Rather,
it is the unwillingness of the Palestine National Authority to control the
Arab terror groups, to stop the incitement and to negotiate honestly, that
makes compromise impossible.
What About Unilateral Withdrawl? Part of the intent in creating
uvdot bashetakh (facts in the field) was to create bargaining
chips for future negotiations. They are one of the issues that Israel
will negotiate. That is clearly what Netanyahu and Barak had in mind when
they encouraged settlement expansion following Arafats violations of
the Oslo Accords. There is no rational justification for a one-sided curtailment
of population growth when the other side maintains a state of war despite
the agreement to curtail violence.
The security needs that prompted the Alon Plan and militarily warranted
settlements still exist; especially in light of the surge of terror activities
sponsored openly by Hamas and at least 9 other terror groups operating in
Israel. In addition, these needs exist in light of many terrorist factions
and Arab states that refuse to consider any peace with Israel, that continue
to perpetrate Jew-hatred in media and education, and that continue to promulgate
the goals of Hamas and other terror groups for the total destruction of Israel.
The settlements and IDF presence in the major Arab population clusters of
the West Bank reduce substantially the ability of terror groups to successfully
launch their attacks. Unilateral withdrawal enhances the ability of the terror
groups to wage terror war.
Any unilateral dismantling of settlements is likely to be interpreted
by the Palestine National Authority and terrorist leadership as a victory
for terrorism. This, in fact, is exactly what has happened following
Prime Minister Sharons decision to unilaterally dismantle Jewish
settlements in the Gaza Strip and at the northern part of the West Bank.
Terrorist spokespersons rejoice in the apparent success of their terror activity,
which they claim is the real motivator for Sharons decision, while
official Palestinian spokespersons suggest that the unilateral withdrawal
from the Gaza Strip is just another Israeli deception. According to their
logic, instead of being a real concession to the Palestinian demand for national
self-determination, the unilateral withdrawal is actually aimed at distracting
the world and the Palestinian leadership so that Sharon can strengthen his
hold on the West Bank and continue to expand Jewish settlement there.
After Oslo, Netanyahu abandoned any thought of a settlement freeze
because the Palestine National Authority made clear its intent to disregard
Oslo and pursue a policy of unrelenting terror. It is believed by some that
part of his purpose in creating more settlements was to send Arafat a clear
signal: If you keep doing your anti-Oslo behavior, the area that you
are likely to end up with as a Palestinian state is going to get smaller
and smaller. Sounds logical, especially since a military response may
have been justified but would have caused world outrage. It didnt work,
even though a number of Palestinian intellectuals and political leaders (most
notably, Elyas Freij, mayor of Bethlehem, quoted in the Washington Post in
l991) publicly advocated negotiation because the growth of Israeli settlements
in the West Bank made it clear that time is on Israels side
It did not work, probably, because Arafat never intended to negotiate.
He always intended to perpetrate his long-dreamed final solution of the total
destruction of Israel. In his 90-minute cell-phone speech to a Lebanese PLO
radio station on April 14, 2002 (from his bedroom of his headquarters in
Ramallah which Israel had surrounded and partially destroyed in Operation
Defensive Shield), he outlined his strategy. With the help of other Arab
states, with the success of Arab propaganda to gradually weaken Israels
legitimacy in the eyes of the world such that UN forces could be deployed
to assist the Palestinians and impede the Israelis in a future battle, and
with the United States
Israels only foul-weather friend having moral and political
difficulty providing assistance to what was now defined as a rogue nation,
the terror armies and their allies could use the West Bank as a launching
pad for the great final Jihad against Israel. Arafats intent as expressed
in that speech has been corroborated by the Israeli destruction of major
arms smuggling networks handling hundreds of tons of illegal weaponry and
munitions since 2001, most recently the 50 tons of weapons on the ship, the
Karine A, and the scores of smuggling tunnels from Sinai to the Gaza Strip.
If this buildup of terror is allowed to continue, it will ultimately compromise
the welfare of the entire free world as we know it.
There is no rational justification for a one-sided settlement compromise
when the other side maintains a state of war. Unilateral withdrawal enhances
the ability of the terrorists to wage terror war. In light of the unrelenting
commitment of terror groups and Mahmoud Abbas frequent public statements
commending the terror groups, defining their casualties as martyrs, and vowing
to never use force against them, it is irrational to suggest that further
Israeli concessions will generate a Palestinian willingness to reciprocate.
In fact, the opposite has happened. The failure of Camp David II was due
in large part to Arafats strategy of pocketing Baraks concessions,
making no substantive concessions in return, and then demanding more from
Barak (see Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace, 2005).
In August 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza strip and
removed all Israeli settlements from the area, along with all 8,500 Jewish
settlers. In addition, Israel dismantled settlements at the northern part
of the West Bank. Israel had made an historically unprecedented concession
in an attempt to jump-start the peace process, and demonstrate to the
Palestinians that it was willing to trade land for peace. Yet, there was
no movement on the part of any Palestinian leader to reciprocate. Instead
there were terrorist leaders on Arab TV, radio, newspapers, all declaring
that the withdrawal was a great victory for Arab terrorism, and that the
terrorist attacks must escalate so that Israel could be annihilated and all
of Palestine liberated. In other words, the problem is not the
settlements. They were dismantled. The problem is the existence of Jews in
the land between the Jordan River and the sea, and the commitment of the
Arab terrorist leadership to the destruction of Israel and the genocide of
The most famous recent episode of the rejection of the creation of a viable
contiguous Palestinian state and the resolution of the refugees problem was
in the year 2000 when the PA Chairman Arafat rebuffed President Clintons
most generous offer and initiated a cruel intifada against Israel. At that
time, the Israeli Prime Minister Barak, hoping to end the protracted conflict
with the Arabs, accepted the offer despite the fact that it would have forced
Israel to make extremely painful concessions.
Most Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are legal
and violate no international laws or relevant UN resolutions.
Most do not involve the theft of any Palestinian land. The settlement
movement has provided enormous benefit to the Arabs of those areas and fueled
a tripling of the Arab population and a skyrocketing West Bank economy --
until the onset of Arafats rule. Settlements do not create stumbling
blocks to peace or hindrances to peace negotiations.
They can be, and have been, dismantled in the context of negotiations
with an honest peace partner. Concessions about settlements should be made
only in the context of negotiations, which can begin only after Palestinian
leadership stops the violence, ends the terror war, and ends the hate speech,
hate preach, and hate teach that have permeated Palestinian society since
Now that, painfully and unilateraly, Israel has relinquished all the
settlements in the Gaza Strip and in the Northern part of the West Bank,
it will be even easier for the Palestinians to demonstrate if they intend
to proceed toward peace. Their actions so far are not very promising.
There is no issue relating to the Israeli settlements in the West
Bank that could not be settled honorably to mutual satisfaction at the
negotiating table between honest peace partners negotiating in good faith.
The question of the remaining settlements is a matter for final status
The simple fact is that no sovereign state would ever be expected
to do otherwise.
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B I O G R A P H I C A L N O T E
David Meir-Levi is an American-born Israeli currently living in Palo
Alto, California. He holds a BA from Johns Hopkins University, and an MA
in Near Eastern Studies from Brandeis University. He taught Archaeology and
Near Eastern History at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and at the University
of Tel Aviv in the 60s and 70s, during which time he completed
his service in the Israeli military. Upon returning to the USA, Mr. Meir-Levi
has worked as a professional Jewish educator, most recently in the San Francisco
Mr. Meir-Levi is the Director of Research and Education at the Israel Peace
Initiative (IPI), a grass-roots not-for-profit organization in the San Francisco
Bay area working to educate the American public and its leaders in to the
history of the Arab-Israel conflict and realistic options for resolution.
For more information about IPI, see:
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