Background Information on Israeli Settlements

(May 28, 2001)

Israel began establishing settlements in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza immediately after its occupation of these territories in the 1967 war. The settlement policy, which has been actively pursued by every Israeli government, aims to 1) create "facts on the ground" which lead to the permanent incorporation of new territory by Israel and 2) keep Palestinian territories divided and surrounded by the Israeli army.

Today, 350,000 Israelis live in more than 150 settlements in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza. The Sharon government is continuing the settlement program, having established 15 new settlements and expanded several others in the last 4 months.


During the first decade of occupation, 1967-77, Israel's Labor government adopted the Allon plan which openly called for annexation of parts of the occupied territories including Jerusalem and its immediate suburbs, the Jordan Valley, the "Judean desert," Southern Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights.

When Likud came to power in 1977, there were about 50,000 Israeli settlers in annexed Jerusalem and 7,000 in 45 settlements throughout the occupied territory. The Likud adopted the "Master Plan for the Development of Settlement in Judea and Samaria 1979-1983." The plan stressed the establishment of numerous settlement outposts and large urban concentrations in three principal areas: A north-south axis running from the Golan through the Jordan Valley and down the east cost of Sinai; a widened corridor around Jerusalem; and the populated western slopes of the "Samarian" heartland. The purpose of this plan was to disrupt the continuity of the Palestinian territory. During the '80's, the settlement activities jumped to an average of 1,000 to 2,000 housing units per year, in addition to the government's investment in major infrastructure. The number of Israeli settlers increased dramatically during the 1980s and the early 1990s. In 1985 the number of settlers (excluding East Jerusalem) reached 42,000 and by 1990 the number was 76,000 settlers in approximately 150 settlements. By 1995 the settler population increased to approximately 145,000 excluding East Jerusalem.

Israel applied a number of measures for illegal land acquisition. These included: 1) taking control of all state and communal lands by force, 2) confiscating land that did not have clear ownership, and 3) direct confiscation of privately owned land. Also, various significant financial incentives were offered to encourage Israelis to move to the occupied territories, including rebates and low interest loans, free infrastructure services and the employment of a high percentage of settlers in the public sector.

Today, there are over 350,000 Israeli settlers in the occupied territories: 190,000 in 145 settlements in the West Bank, 6,000 in the Gaza Strip, and 180,000 within the illegally extended municipal boundaries of East Jerusalem. There are also 36 settlements in the Golan Heights. The settlements occupy around 7% of the occupied Palestinian territory. This percentage dramatically increases when calculations include the land designated for planned expansion of settlements. Currently, the building of settlements continues, as well as the expropriation of land and the building of bypass roads for the settlements.

Legal Status

The Israeli settlement system is illegal under international law. The Fourth Geneva Convention states that "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies" [article 49(6)]. The U.N. Security Council has passed 24 resolutions declaring settlements to be illegal and an obstacle to peace. In addition, the Council has called for the cessation of all settlement activities and the dismantling of the existing ones. The Council has also repeatedly declared that all measures taken by Israel to change the demographic composition, physical character, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, are null and void and have no legal validity [e.g. resolutions 446 (1979), 452 (1979) and 465 (1980)].

The current position of the Palestinian Authority (PA) on settlements is that Israeli settlements are illegal and an obstacle to peace. The PA maintains that no settlement activities should take place during the transitional period before final status negotiations. At a later stage, the settlement system should be dismantled and Palestinian claims for redress should be satisfied. This does not interfere with the possibility of Jews living under Palestinian sovereignty.

The current position of the Israeli government is that international law does not apply to the settlements. Also, in any final status negotiations, Israel maintains that settlements will remain under Israeli sovereignty and control. Israel insists on expanding the existing settlements under the pretext of "natural growth," although some expansions are planned for ten times the size of the existing settlement.

Settlements are part of a deliberate strategy by the Israeli government to colonize and annex the occupied territories, to undermine the sovereignty of Palestine and keep it under the military thumb of Israel. In Gaza, the Israeli settlements break up the strip into three parts. Elsewhere settlements form a barrier between Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank and between numerous Palestinian towns and villages on the West Bank. The settlements and the interconnecting roads slice up the territorial continuity of Palestine and provide the Israeli army easy access at any time to re-occupy Palestinian land and attack Palestinian civilians.