Since the beginning of the occupation after Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 War (also called the Six-Day War) (territory that had been previously administered by Jordan and Egypt since the 1949 armistice agreements), successive Israeli governments have continued to confiscate more and more land in the West Bank and have continued to allow and even promote the construction of Israeli settlements.  This policy is a major obstacle to peace for a couple of reasons. 

First, Israeli confiscation of West Bank land shrinks the size of a future Palestinian state, creating “facts on the ground” that make future evacuation and land swaps necessary and a viable Palestinian state seem nearly impossible, thus undermining a two-state solution to the conflict and paving the way for a future one-state solution of either an apartheid state or a single democratic state in which Jews will no longer be a majority. 

Some “pro-Israel” groups claim that Israeli settlements are not illegal, but the rest of the entire international community, including the U.S., considers that it is illegal under international law for an occupying power to transfer parts of their civilian population into land that is militarily occupied.  Settlement expansion was also explicitly forbidden under George W. Bush’s Road Map plan.  No other government in the world, including the U.S., recognizes continued settlement construction as legitimate, yet Israeli governments have continued to build them, and the settler population in the West Bank has continued to grow.  Despite recent claims by the current Netanyahu government that former U.S. President Bush allowed it, by continuing this settlement policy, Israel is failing to abide by its obligations under previous peace agreements and international law. 

In addition to these reasons, the settlements further jeopardize peace because as Israel continues to confiscate Palestinian land and build new settlements and “outposts,” this serves as a very tangible message to Palestinians that Israel has no intention of following its obligations under previous agreements (so, then why should the Palestinians?), that Israel is interested in taking Palestinian lands and making life harder for the Palestinians, and that Israel is working against the possibility of a future two-state solution.  Continued settlement construction sends the message that Israel does not want peace or a viable two-state solution, but instead that Israel seeks to permanently settle and control all of historic Palestine west of the Jordan river.

The settlements also make life harder for Palestinians in indirect ways because, in addition to taking Palestinian land, the route of the Separation Barrier (or “security” barrier) was planned to incorporate (and to “protect”) most of the settlements plus additional land around them, thus confiscating and destroying even more land in addition to separating many Palestinian villages from their farmlands.  The presence of settlements in the West Bank is also seen by many as one of the reasons that Israel maintains so many checkpoints between Palestinian towns within the West Bank through which Palestinians must pass in order to go from one Palestinian town to another--and that make Palestinian daily life very difficult. 

Lastly, the settlements work against peace because many of the settlers are radical religious extremists who do not believe that Israel should give any land to the Palestinians, and some of them regularly and violently attack Palestinian civilians and destroy Palestinian property, including farmland and even some Mosques.

President Obama has publicly called on Israel to halt new settlement construction as a gesture toward peace and for Israel to fulfill its stated obligations, but Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has so far refused to halt all new construction, continues to insist on “natural growth” in the settlements and East Jerusalem, and now argues that the U.S. administration is unnecessarily and unwisely focusing too much attention on this issue—an issue that Netanyahu claims is not really a central issue to the conflict.  This argument has also been recently picked up in the U.S. media—amongst Congress and evangelical Christians as well as right-leaning American Jewish organizations. 

Netanyahu agreed to a temporary 9-month halt to settlement building in the West Bank--that lasted until September of 2010--in order to appease U.S. demands, but this agreement did not include East Jerusalem, where plans to expand Jewish settlements (known as “Jewish neighborhoods” in the mainstream U.S. media) continued.  In early 2010, the announcement of the planned expansion of 1,600 apartments in Ramat Shlomo during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel caused an embarrassing diplomatic row between the U.S. and Israel.  Despite U.S. and international demands for Israel to extend the moratorium on settlement construction for the sake of the peace talks, Netanyahu’s right-wing government has refused, and settlement construction and expansion has begun again, to the dismay of the Obama administration, the international community, and even many Israelis and American Jewish organizations (most American Jews oppose settlement expansion).  At this time, no agreement between the U.S. and Israel has been reached on this issue.  Even though Palestinian Authority President Abbas said that he will not re-start peace negotiations with Israel until Israel halts all settlement construction, including in East Jerusalem, it appears that he may succumb to U.S. pressure to engage in indirect, mediated peace talks anyway.

  1. Article about Israel's announcement of new settlement construction after the end of the Nov. 2012 Gaza conflict:

  2. Op-ed about the dying prospects for a two-state solution now that Israel has said they will develop E1 in the wake of the 2012 Gaza conflict:

  3. From the JTA about why we should support a settlement freeze:


  5. Article 49 from the 1949 fourth Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War--widely interpreted as outlawing settlements in occupied territories:


  7. A report about the illegality of Israeli settlements under international law from the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:


  9. On the illegality of Israeli settlements from the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem:


  11. B’Tselem page about settler violence:


  13. A CBS 60 Minutes news segment that includes discussion of how Israeli settlements are an obstacle to the two-state solution:


  15. An article from Haaretz about settlements and settlers as obstacles to peace:


  17. Another article about settlers undermining Israel’s legitimacy:


  19. A recent report from the International Crisis Group on the settlement issue:


  21. A New York Times article about settlers’ differing attitudes:


  23. Some statistics on settlement populations, growth, etc.:


How are settlements an obstacle to peace?  Or, are some people making a big deal out of a minor issue in the conflict?