There's a fellow, Henry Cotter, who provided a run-down of the situation on Google Groups:
After the 1967 Six Day War, Israel found itself in possession of
considerable areas of land won in battle from Jordan, Syria and Egypt.
Israel subsequently annexed the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. The
remainder of the territories (Gaza, West Bank and Sinai) remained with
an undermined status pending resolution through peace agreements.
After 1967 the Government of Israel supported settlement building in
certain strategically key areas of the Territories. The Likud government
elected in 1977, increased settlement building in other areas of the
West Bank and Gaza.
In the peace agreement with Egypt (1979) the Sinai was returned to Egypt
and the settlements on it were dismantled.
Accusation: Israeli Settlements are illegal and in violation of the Oslo
Rebuttal: When Israel captured the Territories in 1967 they took over
administration from powers who themselves did not have sovereignty over
the areas. The Palestinian leadership, it will be remembered, themselves
rejected sovereignty in these areas when they rejected the 1947
Partition Plan. These areas cannot therefore be considered occupied
territories as they were not occupied from another nation with
legitimate sovereignty. A more accurate term would be 'disputed
territories' whose future Israel is committed to resolving through
The main basis for suggestions of illegality appears to be Article 49 of
the Fourth Geneva Convention. It states "Individual or mass forcible
transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied
territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any
other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their
motive". In other words a population may not be forcibly moved from the
occupied areas to other lands. But the settlements involve the voluntary
movement of individuals into the so-called occupied areas, not out of
them. The native population is not displaced by the settlements either.
There is no attempt, nor has there ever been, to remove the Palestinian
population from the West Bank or Gaza strip areas.
The Fourth Geneva Convention goes on to state that "The Occupying Power
shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into
the territory it occupies", a clause inserted to prevent what is now
referred to as 'ethnic cleansing'. This passage applies to involuntary
transfer, and so it doesn't apply to the Israeli case.
It is important to note that the Fourth Geneva Convention only applies
to cases of occupation of the territory of a High Contracting Party to
the Convention. As mentioned above, the last lawful sovereignty over the
Territories before Israel took control over them was that of the League
of Nations Mandate. This means that that Convention does not apply to
the Israeli presence in the Territories.
The agreements between the Palestinians and the Israelis refer to the
settlements as an issue to be resolved in the final status negotiations.
(The point at which talks ultimately stalled).
There are no restrictions on settlement building in any of the signed
agreements. All they say is that no party can seek to change the status
of the West Bank or Gaza Strip. A change of status would be the
annexation of the land or a unilateral declaration of statehood.
Accusation: The Settlements are the main obstacle to Peace.
Rebuttal: Settlements have never been the major obstacle to peace.
Before 1967 there were no settlements and still no peace agreement. The
Likud Government, elected in 1977, was committed to greater settlement
building. Even so within two years of coming to power it signed a peace
agreement with Egypt. The agreement included the dismantlement of
settlements in Sinai. In the 1994 peace agreement with Jordan
settlements were not an issue.
Israel has made it clear that it is prepared to negotiate over
settlements, but it is not prepared to pre-judge the outcome of
negotiations by dismantling settlements before negotiations are even
Senator Mitchell's report on the causes of the "Al Aqsa" Intafada
recommended a settlement freeze among other confidence building
measures, but also made it clear that the violence and collapse of the
peace process were not due to settlement activity. The Mitchell Report
also categorically dismissed the link between ceasing settlement
activity and ceasing violence.
Accusation: The Red Cross declared the settlements a war crime.
Rebuttal: The Jerusalem representative of the International Red Cross
Rene Kosimik, said on May 17, 2001, "The installation of a population of
the occupying power in occupied territory is considered an illegal move,
it is a grave breach. In principal it is a war crime." However the
President of the International Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger, responded
to complaints about this by saying "The expression 'war crime' has not
been used by the IRC in relation to Israeli settlements in the Occupied
Territories in the past and will not be used anymore in the present
. The reference made to it on May 17 was inappropriate and will
not be repeated."
Accusation: Israel has no legitimacy and no claim in the West Bank and
Rebuttal: The West Bank and Gaza Strip is best regarded as territory
over which there are competing claims, which should be resolved in peace
process negotiations. Israel has valid claims to title in this territory
based not only on its historic and religious connection to the land, and
its recognized security needs, but also on the fact that the territory
was not under the sovereignty of any state and came under Israeli
control in a war of self-defence, imposed upon Israel. At the same time,
Israel recognizes that the Palestinians also entertain legitimate claims
to the area. Indeed, the very fact that the parties have agreed to
conduct negotiations on settlements indicates that they envisage a
compromise on this issue.
Accusation: Israeli settlements are a provocation. The continued
settlement expansion causes the Palestinian violence.
Rebuttal: Palestinians have claimed that their current violence was
provoked by Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount. This is why it came to
be called the Al Aqsa Intafada. Then they claimed that it was settlement
activity that provoked the violence, which could only stop when the
settlements did. In reality since Sharon's election no new settlements
have been built. Construction is limited to natural growth (e.g. as a
result of families expanding and requiring bigger homes). This is part
of Sharon's coalition agreement with Labour.
Israeli politicians have resisted an absolute freeze on territory
expansion, as this would presume the final result of negotiations before
they have even been entered into.
A solution to the settlement issue and a Palestinian state was offered
at Camp David. Barak offered to dismantle all the Gaza settlements. He
offered the Palestinians 95% of the West Bank. This would have solved
the settlement issue but the Palestinians rejected the offer and chose
violence instead, in the hope that they would achieve more.
Settlements, like Sharon's walk about on the Temple Mount, are simply
used as a convenient excuse for violence.
It is important to note that Israeli public opinion on settlements is
divided. Not all Israelis support settlements and many believe that they
are counterproductive to Israel's interests.
Some people oppose settlements because they believe that they will make
peace with the Palestinians harder to achieve. However it is clear that
whether or not the settlements should be there, they are not a
legitimate target for terror. Nor can they serve as an excuse for
terrorism. The status of settlements must be discussed, and not fought
What's in a Word?
'Settlement' vs. 'suburb' vs. 'village' vs. 'rural community' vs.
My own thoughts:
Putting aside Israel's case for having a legal claim to the settlements, Israel has declared time and time again that they are willing to negotiate a two state solution and hand over certain settlements to the Palestinians. But it can't be a one-way street. The Palestinians must accept Israel's right to exist (they don't), and they must also respect Israel's right to safe and defensible borders. That is why under any planned peace agreement, there would need to be land swaps. Israel is a tiny country (something like 7 times smaller than Tasmania) so it would be sucidal to act any differently.
What is damaging to the prospect for peace is the UN constantly singling out and harrassing Israel to make even greater concessions with absolutely no responsibilty or expectation placed on the Palestinians. It is a sad indictment on the UN that with hundreds of thousands of people being brutally slaughted in Syria and elsewhere, they continue to fixate on Israel. Clearly there can be no greater crime that a Jew adding a third bedroom and a second toilet to an apartment in their historic homeland!
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why there is no public pressure placed on the Palestinians? Why are their no UN resolutions aimed at stopping terror activity, condemning the funding for terrorists and their families in jail, arguing against the ongoing indoctrination of Palestiniation youth to hate and value death over life, the naming of their streets and stadiums after suicide bombers... etc.
The UN are sending a dangerous message that Israeli obstinance is the only obstacle to peace when nothing could be further from the truth. And by doing so they are legitimising terror and encouraging the Palestinians to continue down the same road of digging in their heels. After all, what incentive is their to make concessions when you can get what you want without having to do so?
Israel has sacrificed in the name of peace before. The withdrawal from Gaza being a clear case in point. Vacating Gaza was meant to bring Israel one step closer to peace with the Palestinians but it only brought about more terror and bombs. Israel has also negotiated a successful and enduring peace with Egypt which involved handing back the Sinai so they have proven themselves willing partners for peace.
The only way to achieving peace is to encourage direct negotation between both parties. There needs to be compromise. This bullying tactic of applying political pressure not only will not work, it will drive an even deeper wedge.