Understanding the Settlements

A comprehensive guide to understanding the settlements.

The issue of Israeli settlements has increasingly become one of contention, confusion and confrontation garnering significant attention, and even outright condemnation, around the world. With Mahmoud Abbas’ bid for upgraded Palestinian status at the UN successful, the settlements have once again come to the forefront of international discussions. In response to the Palestinian UN bid, as well as the recent attacks by Hamas that sparked Operation Pillar of Defense, the Israeli government has announced that it intends to move forward with plans for further settlement construction. There are plans in place for 3,000 new housing units in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank. The Israeli government also intends to move forward with zoning plans for an area known as E-1, a 4.6 mile stretch of land between Jerusalem proper and Ma’ale Adumim, a suburban settlement home to over 30,000 Israelis. The plan is contentious, as many world leaders believe that the expansion of settlements into this area is an attempt to bypass a two-state solution and to prevent the eventual founding of a contiguous Palestinian state. A spokesperson for the French government has stated that, “…[the settlement enterprise] is illegal in all its forms. They are illegal in the view of international law, harm the trust necessary for a renewal of negotiations and are an obstacle to a just peace based on a two-state solution."

Is this portrayal of Israeli settlements, including new planned construction in E-1, accurate? Are the settlements really the “primary cause for the failure of the peace process?”

It is not our intention to provide those answers here; rather, we seek to explain and contextualize the Jewish communities in the West Bank, to provide history, depth, and understanding to the discussions taking place on high school and college campuses throughout North America so that individuals can develop their own informed opinions. We also hope that this document helps correct a common misunderstanding, which depicts the settlements as monolithic. In the course of this text, we examine the characteristics of these communities and try to shed light on their geographical and demographic differences.

We are aware that some will find our language troubling; the questions of whether the region west of the Jordan River should be called by its biblical name of Judea and Samaria or by the modern term, ‘West Bank,’ and whether the Jewish neighborhoods in the area should be called ‘towns,’ ‘communities,’ or ‘settlements’ highlight just some of the complexities we face when discussing this hotly-debated issue. For the sake of clarity and brevity, this primer will use ‘settlement’ and ‘West Bank’ with the acknowledgement that these are ideologically loaded terms and they will not satisfy everyone. Our appendices include a Glossary of Terms used throughout the primer, as well as suggested readings, maps, and a short history of land ownership in modern-day Israel. It is our hope that this document will contribute to the knowledge and understanding of the college and high school students we work with on a daily basis, providing solid answers to often-asked questions.

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