The first Israeli settlements in the West Bank date back to 1967, the day after its conquest in the Six Day War. While encouraged by the Israeli government from the start, their expansion became unstoppable from 1977 onwards, when power passed more or less firmly to the Israeli right wing. Today, in the West Bank there are about 130 settlements, in which 475,000 Israeli settlers live, without considering the approximately 300,000 Jews who have settled in East Jerusalem, a subject I will deal with in a future article.
Division of the territory
The 1993 Oslo Agreements led to the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority with the task of self-governing parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and recognized the PLO as Israel’s partner in negotiations on the many outstanding issues. In 1995, the Oslo II agreements extended Palestinian self-government to other parts of the West Bank. Based on the latter, the West Bank was divided into 3 areas:
Area A: Administration and security in the hands of the Palestinian Authority. It constitutes 18% of the territory. It includes the 8 largest Palestinian cities (including Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron). Entry into this area is prohibited for Israeli citizens.
Area B: Palestinian administration and joint Israeli-Palestinian security. It comprises 22% of the West Bank, 440 Palestinian villages and no Israeli settlements.
Area C: Administration and security in the hands of the Israelis. It comprises about 62% of the West Bank. All Israeli settlements are located in this area. Of this, about 70% is reserved for settlements, 21% are military zones and 9% nature reserves. In this area, Palestinians are virtually prevented from building there for residential, commercial or industrial purposes.
Population size and character
In Areas A and B, there are approximately 2.7 million Palestinians. In Area C there are most of the Israeli settlements, made up of small villages, while 4 have taken on the size and status of real cities. The settlers are mostly secular or non-observant and politically right-wing Jews, while the population of two cities (Modi’in Illit – 76,000 inhab. And Beitar Illit – 56,000 inhab.), is mainly represented by the ultra-Orthodox component, rapidly increasing and which represents about one third of all settlers (in Israel about 10%).
Since 1977, colonization has been openly encouraged by the Israeli government, which infuses substantial economic resources, especially for the safety of the settlers. It is also favored by the decidedly lower cost of living and the pleasure of community life1. Israeli settlers are effectively citizens of Israel.
In July 2019, the Knesset approved the law defining Israel as the “national state of the Jewish people”, which states, among other things, that “the State considers the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its consolidation “.
Violence between settlers and Palestinians is almost daily. Last December, following the killing of a settler by two Palestinians, the Palestinian village of Burqa was attacked by hundreds of settlers, supported by Israeli soldiers, and dozens of Palestinians were injured.
Barrier, check points and housing
In order (or with the excuse, depending on your point of view) to defend itself from Palestinian attacks, starting in 2002 Israel erected a barrier of separation between the two populations over 700 km long. Consisting of walls and electronic systems, it runs along the green line (the frontier before the Six Day War), but most of it is located within the West Bank to integrate Israeli settlements.
The ‘Wall’, declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004, restricts freedom of movement, isolates many villages and is seen by Palestinians as an imprisonment. It also makes access to work, schools and hospitals difficult2.
To encourage the development of Israeli settlements or control of nature reserves, many Palestinian homes have been demolished. I will not go into the sad detail of these demolitions, recalling only the one that took place in November 2020, when 70 homes were demolished in the Jordan Valley making 700 Palestinians homeless.
The settlements have been declared illegal by the international community (UN Security Council, International Court of Justice in The Hague, European Union). Their expansion is considered the main impediment to starting a peace process. The US declared them illegitimate until November 2019, during the Trump administration. The International Court of Justice ruled on the illegality of the settlements as they violate art. 49.6 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states: “The occupying power will never be able to proceed with the transfer of a part of its civilian population to the territory it occupies”. Such a transfer is defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (not ratified by Israel) as a war crime.
This week, Amnesty International’s report was released, accusing Israel of the crime of apartheid3. I wrote about this sensitive topic in an article on this blog. Amnesty International calls on the International Criminal Court to include the crime of apartheid in its investigation into the occupied Palestinian territories.
The Israeli government has responded with the customary accusation of anti-Semitism aimed at anyone who criticizes its policy towards the Palestinians.
The settlements and the prospect of peace
Clearly, the settlement policy aims to create a status quo to be placed at the table of any, now chimerical, peace agreements. In practice, they represent an unsurmountable obstacle to any peace agreement acceptable to the Palestinians. Already in 2008, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon said in this regard: “The enlargement of Ofra and other settlements … is an attempt to undermine any possibility of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians …”.
In my opinion, beyond the intolerable suffering of the Palestinians who inhabit the occupied territories, this is the crucial point. The West Bank (5,860 sq. km., smaller than that of the Italian region of Friuli Venezia-Giulia) represents the only strip of land where the Palestinian state could be born. It follows that the occupation of more than half of its territory by Israeli settlements is patently incompatible with any hope of peace.
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