Settlements, Outposts, and the Law


An Israeli report released on 9 March 2005 found that "some of the illegal settlement outposts" in the West Bank were both planned and funded by the Israeli government-through its Housing Ministry-"and were built on private Palestinian land." The report, which is said to have been commissioned by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, recommended that the Housing Ministry be "stripped" of its authority over construction of settlements in the West Bank. After the report was released, the United States warned that Israel’s failure to remove all outposts established since March 2001 would have an "impact on U.S. aid to Israel." However, what the report does not mention and what the U.S. administration excludes from its warning is that all settlement activity-be it outposts or full-fledged settlements-is against international law.

"Unauthorized" Settlement Outposts

Historically, Israel has used the dismantling of "unauthorized" settlements to legitimize its retention and expansion of other settlements. If Sharon’s government acts on the recommendations of its recent report, it would gain leverage with the United States, whose call on Israel to dismantle outposts received international coverage. The United States did not call on Israel to dismantle its settlements.

The word "unauthorized" in terms of outposts-that is new, fledgling settlements-gives Israel the right to remove those outposts that it, in its sole discretion, deems "unauthorized." According to Peace Now in Israel, there are approximately 100 outposts throughout the Occupied Territories. The majority of these outposts-60 percent-were established after Sharon became Prime Minister in February 2001. Peace Now defines the term "outpost" as an area (generally on a hilltop) "with a number of structures that is totally separated from the closest permanent settlement." Many outposts become de facto settlements in that they collect their own taxes and have their own secretariat and absorption committees for recruiting new settlers.

The question remains that if Israel orders the dismantlement of "some" of its "unauthorized" outposts established after March 2001, and is praised by the United States and international community for doing so, will the remaining settlements then be deemed "authorized" by the international community?

There is no such thing as an "authorized" settlement. All settlements are illegal under international law. The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an Occupying Power from deporting or transferring parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies, either directly or indirectly. The rule applies to all structures-from the one-trail outpost to the 8,750 acre Maaleh Adumim settlement housing close to 30,000 settlers.

Sharon and the Settlements

In 1998, then-Foreign Minister Sharon-who is known as the father of the settlement movement-called on Jewish settlers to "grab the hilltops" and encouraged them to "stake your claim." As minister of construction and housing from 1990-1992, Sharon initiated and carried out a campaign to absorb new Jewish immigrants from Russia. To accommodate the newcomers, the government approved thousands of new settler units in the Occupied Territories. Moreover, successive Israeli governments have encouraged even non-ideological Israelis to settle Palestinian lands by giving them tax breaks and child allowance incentives. This allows Jewish citizens to get more for their money by moving into settlements than by remaining in Israel proper.

According to Palestinian researcher and cartographer Khalil Toufakji, there are 155 settlements in the West Bank, 17 in the Gaza Strip (not including the industrial zones and outposts), and 15 in East Jerusalem. Toufakji puts the settler population in the Occupied Palestinian Territory at 452,863 persons. Of those, there are 236,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank, 182,000 in East Jerusalem, and 7,600 in the Gaza Strip.

In 2004, as part of his Gaza disengagement plan-the redeployment of Israeli troops and the evacuation of the 7,600 settlers-Israeli Prime Minister Sharon, with the approval of U.S. President George W. Bush, announced that Israel will keep five West Bank settlement blocs as well as the settler enclaves in the center of the city of Hebron.

All West Bank settlements, like those slated for evacuation in the Gaza Strip, are illegal under international law.

The West Bank Settlements to be Annexed to Israel

Divided into regions-Western Hills Strip, Mountain Strip, Eastern Strip, and the Jerusalem Metropolis-the total percentage of the West Bank slated to be annexed to Israel is six percent. Palestinian officials warn that the issue is not one of percentages but of the strategic location of settlements and the detrimental impact the annexed blocs will have on the contiguity of the future Palestinian state and its access to natural resources such as water.

The land area of the settlements provided below are designated in the Settlements Master Plan of the Israeli Civil Administration. Settlement population figures are based on 2002 Israeli statistics.

The Maaleh Adumim Bloc (East of the West Bank): The Adumim bloc consists of six settlements and an industrial area. The land area for the Adumim bloc is 52,493 dunums (13,123 acres). There are 30,000 settlers living in the Adumim settlement bloc. One of the six settlements in this bloc is the Maaleh Adumim settlement where 25,200 settlers live on 35,000 dunums (8,750 acres). The borders of Maaleh Adumim connect with the other settlements in this bloc, creating a contiguous bloc of settlements in the center of the West Bank.

The Gush Etzion Bloc (South of Jerusalem): Fourteen settlements comprise the Etzion bloc in the south. This bloc contains one of the fastest expanding settlements, Betar Illit. It sits on 4,200 dunums (1,050 acres) and has a population of 22,600 settlers. Efrat, the largest settlement in geographic size, is 12,500 dunums (3,125 acres) and has a population of 7,000 settlers. Expansions to the Etzion bloc have consumed 20,690 additional dunums of Palestinian land (5,173 acres) and now boast a combined settler population of 28,886.

Givat Zeev Bloc (Northwest of Jerusalem): The Givat Zeev settlement is the largest and most populous of the five settlements in this bloc. It has a population of 10,774, and the developed area of 5,000 dunums (1,250 acres). The total area of the Givat Zeev bloc is 7,450 dunums (1,863 acres). In all, 14,603 settlers live in this settlement bloc.

The Ariel Bloc (Northern West Bank): Fourteen settlements comprise the Ariel bloc. The largest settlement in this bloc is Ariel with 17,091 settlers on a land area of 16,000 dunums (4,000 acres). There are 47,848 settlers living in the Ariel bloc of settlements which covers a total of 39,333 dunums (9,833 acres). Development of the Palestinian city of Nablus, which includes eight villages and two refugee camps, is effectively prohibited by the size and position of the Ariel bloc of settlements.

Hebron Area (Southern West Bank): South of the Palestinian city of Hebron, 6,400 settlers live in the settlement of Kiryat Arba. Another 2,670 settlers live in nine settlements surrounding Kiryat Arba. The Hebron settlement bloc is 2,543 dunums (635.75 acres). This does not include the area of Kiryat Arba which blocks the developmental capacity of Hebron in the east. The city’s developmental area to the south is also blocked by the Hebron area settlements. In the heart of Hebron, 750 settlers live in four enclaves. The Palestinian population of Hebron, in contrast, is approximately 140,000.

Majority of Settlers to Remain

The settlement blocs house 80 percent of the West Bank settler population. In exchange for the evacuation of the 7,600 settlers from the Gaza Strip and the dismantling of a few "unauthorized" and strategically expendable outposts, Israel intends to annex the majority of the settlers and the remaining illegal yet "authorized" settlements.