For decades, Israel has incessantly expanded its presence beyond its recognized borders through land confiscations and the establishment of unlawful Jewish settlements, seizing areas that have historically belonged to Palestinians. Since the Six Day War in 1967, Israel has been engaged in an illegal occupation of the Palestinian territory of the West Bank, behavior that has served as a major barrier to the prospects for progress regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Despite criticism for its longstanding illegal occupation and international resolutions affirming it as an obstacle to peace, the Israeli government has exacerbated the issue and instead sought to expand its borders through the creation of communities for its citizens on these stolen lands. This is a direct violation of the Geneva Conventions, and shows a blatant disregard for international law. In the decades since 1967, Israel has continued to illegally take Palestinian land, which has resulted in mass discrimination against Palestinians and played a role in the establishment of Israel as an apartheid state.
Over the past 50+ years, Israel has illegally seized Palestinian land through the construction of unlawful settlements. These settlements are communities of Jewish Israelis who built sprawling compounds on occupied land, such as the West Bank and East Jerusalem. As Israel is an occupying presence, the settlements oftentimes include Israeli security forces. At the conclusion of the Six Day War, the United Nations passed Resolution 242, which is a framework for establishing a legitimate two-state solution. As well as creating an independent Palestinian state, the resolution calls for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli presence from Palestinian lands occupied at the conclusion of the conflict. The existence of Israeli settlements, which are built with the support and approval of the Israeli government, are in direct violation of international law and this resolution. Israel’s ongoing dedication to building additional settlements illustrates the government’s disregard for international law, and indeed its intention to eradicate Palestinians’ presence in the area.
Since 1967, over 150 illegal settlements have been constructed in the West Bank and occupied Palestinian territories, with over 700,000 illegal settlers currently inhabiting them. In total, this means that over 10% of the entire Israeli population live in illegal settlements outside of Israel’s recognized borders. Over 40% of the land in the West Bank is controlled by settlers, and upward of 80% of East Jerusalem is used for Israeli state and settler purposes. In total, over 100,000 hectares of Palestinian land has been stolen by Israeli settlers since 1967. The largest settlements have schools, medical centers, and unique economies to support themselves. These economies have largely been created through the theft of vital Palestinian resources, such as water, which settlers have appropriated to sustain their settlements.
This is in stark contrast to the realities of Palestinian existence in the same areas, where they are victimized by Israeli occupiers, and the public infrastructure is poor due to the discriminatory Israeli bureaucratic practice of issuing permits to construct public buildings. Palestinians face harsh restrictions on their movements, and Israel uses a “permit regime” to regulate where Palestinians are allowed to travel. Additionally, the land seized by Israeli settlers is often privately owned by Palestinians, although this has not prevented settlers from forcibly displacing Palestinian families and stealing their property. Indeed, upward of 50,000 Palestinian homes in the occupied territories have been destroyed by illegal settlers since 1967.
Israel claims that there are two reasons behind their unlawful settlements in the West Bank. First, they contend that the area is of religious significance and one they are entitled to, but in pushing this there is a complete disregard for the Palestinians’ historical ties to the land. The transport of Israeli Jews to these illegal settlements also breaches the 4th Geneva Convention against an occupying force moving its citizenry to conquered territory, regardless of any perceived link to the land. Secondly, Israel views Palestinian presence in the West Bank as a constant threat to national security, despite the Israeli government often instigating conflict through the support of illegal settlements and other provocative behavior. By claiming “self-defense,” Israel has tried to circumvent international law and illegally annex Palestinian territory, which has fostered a system of apartheid where Palestinians are treated as inferior citizens.
For years, the international community has been opposed to Israel’s illegal settlements, although it has been reluctant to formulate policy to combat Israel’s actions. The European Union, which is Israel’s largest trading partner, has been keen to try and solve the problem through diplomacy and dialogue, even as Israel is unwavering in its determination to continue building the settlements. Conversely, The Arab League has been consistently strong in its rejection of Israel’s illegal activity, saying that the settlements constitute war crimes under the Geneva Convention. In the United States, the administration of Donald Trump reversed decades-old American policy by declaring that Israel’s settlements were not illegal. However, since coming to office, the Biden administration has expressed its support for a two-state solution, and restored programs that fund Palestinian initiatives and refugee programs that the Trump administration suspended. Despite this, Israel remains committed to its settlements, and is confident that foreign countries won’t take strong action against it. One reason for this, particularly in the United States, is the strength of pro-Israel lobbying organizations. In the most recent election cycle, roughly $30 million was donated to candidates of both parties by pro-Israel organizations. This financial strength, combined with the intentional misconstruing of anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism, has made support for Israel a polarizing topic in American politics, regardless of the illegality of Israel’s settlement activity.
Ultimately, Israel’s illegal settlement activity and seizure of Palestinian lands is an active impediment to peace in the region. Israel’s decades-long campaign of land theft is a blatant violation of international law, and has been called out by human rights organizations and social justice advocates. Following the conclusion of the war in 1967, Israel has steadily ramped up its illegal activity in occupied Palestinian territory, despite resolutions from the United Nations condemning the behavior. In practice, Israel’s actions against Palestinians since 1967 constitute policies of apartheid, of which the settlements and land confiscations are a key aspect. If meaningful advancements in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process are to be made, then dealing with the issue of Israel’s illegal settlements is an essential component.