A Palestinian farmer ploughs his land as West Bank Jewish settlement of Efrat is seen in the background. Photo: Baz Ratner, Reuters, December 22, 2011.
From 1967 to late 2015, 127 Israeli settlements were established in the West Bank that were recognized by the Ministry of the Interior as “communities”. Also established:
about 100 outposts (settlements built without official authorization but with support and assistance from government ministries).
a number of Jewish settlement locales inside Hebron which receive government support.
15 neighborhoods in areas of the West Bank annexed by Israel in 1967 and assigned to Jerusalem’s jurisdiction. The government has also funded and assisted in the establishment of several settler enclaves in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
16 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in the northern West Bank that were dismantled in 2005 in the course of the Disengagement Plan.
The settler population in the West Bank is estimated to be upwards of 588,000: in late 2015 the population of the West Bank settlements was 382,916; in late 2014 there were 205,220 individuals living in Israeli neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
The existence of settlements leads to violations of many of the human rights of Palestinians, including the rights to property, equality, an adequate standard of living and freedom of movement. In addition, the radical changes Israel has made to the map of the West Bank preclude any real possibility of establishing an independent, viable Palestinian state as part of the fulfillment of the right to self-determination.
The settlements have been allocated vast areas, far exceeding their built-up sections. These areas have been declared closed military zones by military orders and are off limits to Palestinians, except by special permit. In contrast, Israeli citizens, Jews from anywhere in the world and tourists may all freely enter these areas. In total, the settlements and the areas under the jurisdiction of the regional councils cover 63% of Area C (under full Israeli control) and Palestinians are prohibited from construction or development in these areas. Unlike the restrictive planning policy in place for Palestinian communities, Israeli settlements enjoy full representation in the planning process, detailed planning, hookup to advanced infrastructure and a blind eye regarding illegal construction.
Although the West Bank is not part of Israel's sovereign territory, the settlements and the settlers are generally subject to Israeli law. As a result, the settlers enjoy all the rights of citizens in a democratic state, just as Israeli citizens living within the Green Line do. Meanwhile, Palestinians continue to live under martial law and are thereby systematically deprived of their rights and denied the ability to have any real impact on policymaking with respect to the territory in which they live.
The establishment of settlements contravenes international law, which states that an occupying power is not allowed to make permanent changes to the territory it occupied. According to international law, it is also prohibited for the occupying sate to relocate its own citizens to the occupied territory. Notwithstanding, Israeli governments have implemented a consistent and systematic policy in violation of international law, designed to encourage its citizens to relocate to the West Bank.. One means of encouraging settlement is offering financial benefits and incentives to citizens - either directly or to the local Jewish authorities – to raise the residents’ standard of living.
Considering the fact that the settlements are illegal, and given the attendant human rights violations, B'Tselem calls on Israel to vacate all settlements. Such evacuation must be conducted in a manner that respects the settlers’ rights, including payment of compensation.
The evacuation of the settlements is clearly a complex project that would take some time to accomplish. However, there are number of interim steps that may be taken already now in order to minimize human rights violations and breaches of international law. Among other steps, the Israeli government should halt all new construction in the settlements be it for establishing new settlements or expanding existing ones; allow Palestinians to use non-built-up areas that had been brought under the municipal jurisdiction of settlements and regional councils; dismantle the special planning committees in the settlements, thereby revoking the powers given to local authorities to prepare master plans and issue construction permits; discontinue the financial incentive programs intended to encourage Israeli citizens to move to settlements, instead allocate these resources to encouraging settlers to relocate to communities within the borders of the State of Israel.