Settlement Affairs: Settling this, once and for all

As spat with US over W. Bank construction heats up, so does confusion about terms - and terminology.

Maaleh Rehavam outpost 248.88 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Maaleh Rehavam outpost 248.88 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel promises not to build more settlements: It sounds dramatic when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu says it, almost as though he is taking a new stand and ceding to the US's request to stop settlement growth. In actuality, a new settlement has not been created since 1999, when Negahot was established in the South Hebron Hills. Out of the 145 settlements that were built in the West Bank, Jordan Valley, Dead Sea region and Gaza Strip from 1967 to 1999, the bulk were created in the earlier years of the settlement movement. Starting with Kfar Etzion in 1967, five settlements were created in the late 1960s - 50 in the 1970s, 82 in the 1980s and eight in the 1990s. By the time Netanyahu took office for the first time in 1996, all but four of the 145 settlements had been created. Since the 1990s, when one talks about settlement growth, one means the size of the settlement population, and the extent of construction within the settlements. To illustrate: According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, over the course of the 24-year period beginning in 1967 (until 1991), the settler population grew from zero to 94,100. During the following 17 years, from 1991 to 2008, it soared by 192,500, bringing the total number of settlers to 286,600. Israel has a right to build in accordance with natural growth: When defending continued settlement growth, politicians often speak of the right to build for "natural growth." In May, President Shimon Peres said, "Israel cannot instruct settlers in existing settlements not to have children or get married," leaving the impression that construction in the settlements is done to accommodate birth or marriage - and not new residents. In truth, if one employs a strict definition of natural growth - which is births minus deaths - the settler population has always grown well beyond its birth, or even marriage, rate. In 2007, for example, 9,200 (63.5 %) of the new settlers came from births minus deaths, while another 5,300 (36.5%) were migrants. Overall, since Israel accepted the US-backed road map in 2003, migration has made up 35% of settler growth, and that is a decrease from previous years. Israel should freeze settlement activity: The idea was first put forward in a 2001 report by then US senator George Mitchell and codified in the road map, which outlines the obligations of both parties along the path to a two-state solution. Consistent with the Mitchell Report, the road map demands that Israel freeze all settlement activity (including natural growth). Israel has since believed that this demand was modified through diplomatic discussions with the US, and by the April 2004 letter from president George W. Bush to prime minister Ariel Sharon, which stated that "in light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion." Successive governments have, in fact, operated according to the principle that it is permissible to build beyond natural growth in areas that would be retained in a final-status agreement. While the Bush administration often criticized construction even in those areas, it took no public action on the matter. The Obama administration is insisting that Israel meet this demand by stopping all construction in West Bank settlements, which has generally amounted to 1,500-2,000 new homes per year, even after Israel signed onto the road map. No new construction permits have been issued since November 2008, but construction continues based on old permits, which Peace Now estimates could allow for the construction of 6,000 new homes. It is unclear how far Israel has to go to meet US demands. Some options could include halting already authorized projects, where work has not yet begun or, in the worst-case scenario, stopping those construction projects already under way. Settlement blocs: This is a loose concept that was raised during the 1993 Oslo peace process, according to which it was believed that Israel would be able to retain settlements in highly populated areas, mostly along the Green Line, in exchange for territory inside Israel that would be given to the Palestinians. Although these blocs have never clearly been defined, it is widely assumed that Israel would seek to retain the Gush Etzion bloc, as well as the cities of Modi'in Illit, Betar Illit and Ma'aleh Adumim. Even one of the fiercest critics of the settlements, former US president Jimmy Carter - upon visiting Gush Etzion earlier this week - said he had always imagined it would remain part of Israel. Settlements within "the consensus": This is a term used to refer to settlements that Israel believes it would retain under any final status agreement. Settlement and settler: Contrary to popular belief, calling something a settlement has nothing to do with its size or development. Settlements are specifically those communities located in any area over the Green Line - other than in east Jerusalem - that were given legal status by the government, in most cases through a cabinet decision. Settlers are the people who lives in such communities, without regard to their ideology or religious observance. Unlike other communities, settlements fall under the jurisdiction of the Defense Ministry, and all construction in them must be approved both by that ministry and by the Prime Minister's Office. The international community includes Jewish areas of Jerusalem over the Green Line when it speaks of settlements. Israel, however, rejects this definition, because Jerusalem, the eastern part of which it annexed after the Six Day War, has the same legal status as any other community within the pre-1967 borders. Unlike the international community, the US does not classify east Jerusalem as a settlement, although it has spoken out against construction there, as well. At present, there are 120 settlements. Twenty-five of them - 21 in Gaza, and four in northern Samaria - were destroyed during disengagement in 2005. Rapid settlement growth: All the talk of rapidly growing settlements gives the impression that each settlement is mushrooming in size. In truth, only about 25 are growing by more than 100 people in any given year; another 74 are growing by less than 100; and the remaining 21 have populations that are static or in decline. In 2008, the three largest settlements - Modi'in Illit, Betar Illit and Ma'aleh Adumim - accounted for 110,200 people (38%) among the entire settlement population of 289,600. Fifty-seven percent of settler population growth in that year came from these three cities. Among the 120 settlements, 47 have a population of less than 500. The smallest, Niran in the Jordan Valley, has 56. Another 28 have more than 500 and less than 1,000, leaving only 45 with a population of 1,000 or more. Of those, only 12 have populations of more than 5,000. Outposts: Outposts are communities over the Green Line, and outside of Jerusalem - constructed between 1991 and 2004 - that were not authorized by the government. Officially, there are 105, and Israel has promised the US to remove 26.