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Briefing: Israeli Settlements and Outposts in the West Bank

Illegal Expansion and Expropriation of Palestinian Lands

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settlement construction

Between Dec. 2007 and July 2008 alone, Over 1000 new buildings totaling 2,600 housing units were built in the settlements, an increased by a factor of 1.8 in comparison with the same period the previous year, according to Peace Now.

© 2008 Peace Now
Updated June 06, 2009

Israel invaded the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967 and has occupied it since. The occupation is illegal according to international law. It is also illegal, under international law, for Israel to build settlements and populate occupied territory with its own civilian population. (See below.)

Number of Settlements and “Outposts”

Since 1967, Israel has built 120 settlements in the West Bank, and 12 settlements in East Jerusalem. The Interior Ministry calls them “communities,” though some settlements’ land boundaries are not contiguous.

In addition to the settlements, Israelis have built 100 so-called “outposts” that don’t have the status of settlements in the Interior Ministry’s eyes but do enjoy the same protection from the Israeli military, the same funding from Israeli nationals and the same special treatment from Israeli authorities, such as roads, utilities and schools for the exclusive use of settlers.

The “outposts” are settlements by another name, as a report on the “outposts” commissioned in 2005 by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon described them: "In fact, the unauthorized outposts phenomenon is a continuation of the settlement enterprise in the territories." The report added that public authorities and other Israeli government bodies "took, along with others, a major role in establishing the unauthorized outposts. Some of which were inspired by the political echelon, sometimes by overlooking, sometimes by actual encouragement and support, but never as a result of an authorized resolution by the qualified political echelon of the State."

Peace Now, the Israeli human rights organization, reported that as of April 2007, there were 102 “outposts” in the West Bank. “The outposts in which construction and expansion was noted during these months are located throughout the whole of the West Bank,” Peace Now noted. “Within the context of the ‘Road Map’ which was approved by Israel as early as in June 2003, Israel undertook to evacuate the outposts which had been established after March 2001. The reference is to approx. 50 outposts, none of which have been evacuated to date. As expected, these outposts have continued to expand, even during the last few months.”

Population of the Settlements

The Jewish rate of population growth in the settlements, at 5.8%, is far higher than in Israel proper (1.8%), leading to a rapid rise in settler the population. In 2009, some 300,000 Israelis lived in the West Bank, not including East Jerusalem.

At the end of 2006, the total Jewish population of the settlements in the West Bank, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, had stood at 261,879. An additional 182,460 lived in East Jerusalem.

Israel pledged to freeze settlement activity at various points in the peace process. Israel has never respected the pledge, however, as the following population figures of West Bank settlements since 1996 indicate. The figures are as of the last day of each year except for 2009:

  • 1996: 139,974
  • 1997: 152,277
  • 1998: 164,800
  • 1999: 177,327
  • 2000: 190,206
  • 2001: 200,297
  • 2002: 211,416
  • 2003: 223,954
  • 2004: 235,263
  • 2005: 247,514
  • 2006: 261,879
  • June 2009 estimate: 300,000

"According to the newly disclosed data," The Times reported in June 2009, "about 58,800 housing units have been built with government approval in the West Bank settlements over the past 40 years. An additional 46,500 have already obtained Defense Ministry approval within the existing master plans, awaiting nothing more than a government decision to build."

At the current growth rate, those 46,500 units would be built before 2030.

Breaking the Promise of Oslo

The Oslo Declaration Israel signed in 1993 was explicit. Article 31, Clause 7, stated: "Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations."

At the time, there were 32,750 housing units in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. By October 2001, units had increased by 62%, to 53,121, including a 48% growth spurt during the Labor governments of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.

Settlements and International Law

International law is clear on the matter of the illegality of Israeli settlements in the West Bank:

  • Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War states in the first paragraph: “Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.”

    And in the sixth paragraph: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

  • According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), this sub-article was intended “… to prevent a practice adopted during the Second World War by certain Powers, which transferred portions of their own population to occupied territory for political and racial reasons or in order, as they claimed, to colonize those territories. Such transfers worsened the economic situation of the native population and endangered their separate existence as a race.”

  • United Nations Security Council Resolution 446, on March 22, 1979, determined “that the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

  • An advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice in 2004, addressing the West Bank barrier in particular and the West Bank itself in general, concluded “that the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (including East Jerusalem) have been established in breach of international law.”

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