Israeli Settlements: The End of the Two-State Solution Path

By Hani Smirat

The Israeli settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories is a primary strategy pursued by the Israeli entity to achieve its goals, with the fundamental objective being to solidify Israel’s foothold in Palestine. Abandoning this strategy is considered an existential threat to the Zionist entity, which regards the land of Palestine as the historical land of Israel from which Jews were exiled and must return to resume their history. This concept of settlement, embraced by the Zionist movement since the mid-18th century, evolved significantly after World War I and was notably propelled forward by the Balfour Declaration on November 2, 1917. This declaration promised the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people in Palestine” while ensuring that this would not prejudice the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine, marking the first clear signal towards the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.

Furthermore, settlement carries a religious Torah-based dimension for Jews and has been politically leveraged to establish a Jewish state, rooted in the idea of “a land without a people for a people without a land.” Jabotinsky worked to instill settlement ideals in Jewish generations, asserting that “Zionism is the settlement, and it lives or dies by the issue of force.” These ideas were later adopted by Israeli leaders such as Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, and Ariel Sharon, and have deeply influenced Zionist political, security, and media discourse, becoming a cornerstone of all Zionist parties’ programs.

Over time, both right-wing and left-wing Israeli governments have pursued land confiscation and settlement construction under the guise of security, despite international condemnations. These policies continued even through peace initiatives like the Oslo Accords and the 2003 Roadmap for Peace, which failed to halt Israeli settlement activities or stubbornness, including the construction of bypass roads and the annexation of settlements to Israel, facilitating Jewish immigration from around the world to Palestinian areas in a process of replacement that underscores policies of ethnic cleansing.

Settlers have formed demographic blocs that infiltrate Palestinian communities, strategically situated atop significant groundwater reserves in the West Bank and consuming these waters at the expense of Palestinians. These settlement outposts have transformed into fortified compounds, becoming sources of terrorism and attacks against Palestinian civilians, posing a constant threat to the security and property of Palestinian citizens.

Israeli settlements refer to communities established by Israel in territories it occupied after the 1967 Six-Day War, including the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. These settlements range from small villages to large towns and are inhabited by Israeli citizens. The international community, including the United Nations, generally considers these settlements to be illegal under international law, a stance that Israel disputes.

The history of Israeli settlement activity dates to the immediate aftermath of the 1967 war, when Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. The initial settlements were established for a variety of reasons, including strategic military concerns, religious and historical claims to the land, and the Israeli government’s policy decisions. Over the decades, the settlement enterprise has grown significantly, with a profound impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the lives of people in the region.

The establishment and expansion of settlements have been a contentious issue in peace negotiations and have contributed to the complexity of achieving a two-state solution. The settlements are seen by many Palestinians and international actors as an obstacle to peace, as they involve the appropriation of land and resources that could form part of a future Palestinian state.

All successive Israeli governments have adopted a policy of building and expanding settlements in the West Bank, offering incentives and facilitations to encourage Israeli migration there. From having no settlements in 1967, the beginning of 2023 saw around 176 settlements and 186 outposts in the West Bank, housing 726,427 settlers.

Israeli settlements constituted 42% of the West Bank’s area, with 68% of Area C—encompassing 87% of the West Bank’s natural resources, 90% of its forests, and 49% of its roads—controlled for the benefit of the settlements.

These settlement policies have entrenched the fragmentation of the West Bank, confining Palestinian citizens to isolated and discontinuous areas, fragmenting local markets and communities, obstructing economic and social development, violating Palestinian human rights, and eliminating the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank.

The increase in settlement activities in the West Bank represents a serious and unnatural escalation in the Zionist settlement actions, particularly in the Jerusalem area which has been the primary focus of settlers and a systematic policy aimed at Judaizing Jerusalem.

Many Israeli entities, including media outlets that reveal numerous aspects of the internal Israeli societal turmoil, acknowledge that Israeli courts and the government have directly facilitated settlement activities. Anyone observing the policies of successive Israeli governments can see a harmony between settlers and state political apparatuses.

The goals Israel seeks to achieve through settlement activities vary from one area to another and change over time, influencing the selection, number, type, and nature of the settlers in these settlements. However, this diversity in objectives should not obscure the reality of the harmony and integration between the purposes of the settlements, as a single settlement can serve military, political, and economic purposes simultaneously.

There are several serious dimensions to Zionist settlement projects, among which the military aspect is crucial. Settlement projects are generally linked to Israeli military strategy, making security one of the most decisive factors in settlement policy. These settlements form a security barrier for the Israeli entity and are self-sufficient, built on military bases atop mountains and at strategic road intersections.

On the other hand, there’s the ideological dimension, based on religious ideological considerations that aim to link settlement activities with prevailing ideological origins in Israel, such as claims to the lands of Solomon and David and the assertion of the Land of Israel as the promised land. These religious beliefs are deeply ingrained in Zionist settlement thought and represent one of the most significant motivations for settlement activities, especially among religious Jews.

The political dimension of settlement is arguably the supreme goal that Israeli authorities strive to achieve, especially in terms of solidifying Israel’s political status and expanding its geographical footprint by legitimizing the settlements.

Another dimension of the settlements is economic, where settlement activities aim to achieve a set of economic goals that Israel seeks through agricultural activity, control over water resources, and the creation of large settlement cities. The goal is to attract as many settlers as possible to expand Israel’s demographic distribution and establish industrial centers, like factories for tobacco, juices, and plastics, enhancing the Israeli economy.

The final dimension of the settlements is demographic, aiming to achieve a series of demographic changes in the occupied territories by planting the highest possible number of Jewish density in Palestinian lands. This includes creating integrated Jewish communities connected to Israeli society internally and turning Palestinians into a marginalized and besieged minority.

Therefore, settlements are not a tactical choice in Israeli actions but a strategic one aimed at undermining the Palestinian option of establishing a state based on the borders of June 4, 1967. Statistics indicate that over half a million settlers in the Palestinian territories and hundreds of settlements in the West Bank will make Palestinians live in cantons and enclosed boxes surrounded by settlements, impeding any possibility of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state.

The rapid expansion and assimilation into Palestinian territories pose a direct and formidable challenge on the ground for the coming years, making it increasingly difficult for Israel to be asked to abandon settlements or to relocate or repatriate millions of settlers to their homeland. This expansion is a manifest reality that asserts itself forcefully in Palestinian territories.

In his critique, former Israeli Knesset member Yehoshua Ben-Ari, writing in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth on January 14, 2012, stated, “The truth is there is no Zionism without settlement, and no Jewish state without the eviction of Arabs and the confiscation and fencing of their lands.” This statement encapsulates the practical manifestation of Zionist ideology on the ground, which is based on the appropriation of Palestinian land by any means necessary, including religious and historical justifications, and the assertion of the notion “a land without a people for a people without a land,” with the ultimate goal of establishing an exclusive Zionist state.

It is clear, beyond a doubt, that hundreds of settlements established since the 1967 occupation have transformed some of these settlements into major cities and communities for Jewish settlers, while others are in the process of development. Many political analysts question the feasibility of establishing a Palestinian state amidst these settlements. Political analyst and researcher Mohammed Al-Khatib mentioned in an interview that settlements are a tangible reality and it is impossible to conceive an independent Palestinian state with the existence of hundreds of settlements and settlement outposts. If a Palestinian state were to emerge, it would be a fragmented and weak state, comprised of small disconnected enclaves and cities in name only.

Despite numerous international resolutions declaring the illegality of the settlements and recognizing them as an obstacle to peace and the resolution of the conflict, there is an implicit acknowledgment by the U.S. administration of its limited power against the settlement project initiated by Israel. Former President Jimmy Carter, one of the most outspoken critics of the settlement phenomenon, has been quoted in The Washington Post expressing his opposition to settlement activities, highlighting the challenge they pose to peace efforts and the two-state solution.

In this context, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, in his March 2010 statements, expressed strong opposition to Israel in international resolutions and called for the dismantlement of settlements, stating that such formulations were “unrealistic and impractical.”

Joseph Weitz, the head of settlement in the Jewish Agency, stated in the newspaper Davar on September 26, 1967, that he and other Zionist leaders had concluded that there is no room for both the Arab and Jewish peoples in this country. Achieving Zionist goals requires the depopulation of Palestine, or a part of it, from its Arab inhabitants, suggesting that Arabs should be transferred to neighboring countries. After completing this population transfer, Palestine could then accommodate millions of Jews.

In light of discussions on the final geography of the occupied territories in 1967, Dutch geographer Ben de Jong predicted that those expecting the map of Jerusalem presented at the final status negotiations to match its post-1967 status would be completely surprised. The map is likely to extend from Beit Ummar just outside Hebron in the north to Modi’in in the west and a few kilometers outside Jericho in the east.

This vast area, considered by Israel as part of Greater Jerusalem, covers approximately 1250 square kilometers, three-quarters of which lie within the West Bank. Thus, the current expanded form of Jerusalem, slightly less than the future vision outlined by De Jong, represents about a quarter of the West Bank territories.

This plan of Israel is not only a geographical assault but also a fierce attack on culture, religion, and history. It represents a bold ambition in rejecting diversity, coexistence, and the concept of a people without land, aiming to dominate culture and history and severing the connections of Palestinian territories in the West Bank, East, and West Jerusalem as part of a systematic policy.

Settlement construction processes are undertaken by contractors from the private sector based on projects proposed by the Ministry of Housing in public tenders. The construction is also based on principles issued by the Minister of Housing or the Prime Minister himself, and these projects are approved by the official Israeli Project Approval Committee. The Israeli government supports these with all its capabilities by establishing utilities and providing all means of life, including water and electricity projects. On multiple occasions, senior Israeli officials have defended the settlers and settlement policy, stating that the Israeli government will mobilize all its resources and energy to ensure not a single settler is left without water or electricity.

Israel justifies settlement practices in the occupied territories and Jerusalem as necessary for maintaining security and order in the areas under its control. It relies on the laws and regulations of military occupation, allowing occupying forces to undertake such actions in the occupied territories if necessary for military reasons and security requirements. Despite Western approaches and contradictory claims, Israel insists that the Israeli settlements spread across the occupied Palestinian territories are the result of individual and collective volunteer efforts, distancing the state’s direct involvement.

Regardless of Israeli narratives regarding settlement activities, whether security, political, or expansionist claims, the reality on the ground, as evidenced in research, studies, and books, shows that the settlement project is a strategic, systematic initiative continuously supported by the Israeli government. The numbers indicate an escalating trend of settlements that is expected to grow significantly in the coming years. These settlements will intertwine with Palestinian villages and cities, and surrounding rural areas, leaving the Palestinian leadership with limited means to counteract this settlement expansion and aggressive encroachment


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Youth's poetry ignites my quest, Against oppression, I protest. In Palestine's struggle, voices rise, For freedom, peace, justice, my cries.
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