A look at Israel's settlements ahead of possible annexation

A look at Israel's settlements ahead of possible annexation
A new housing project sign stands in the Jewish West Bank settlement of Ari'el, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. The population of Jewish settlements in the West Bank surged by more than 3% in 2019, well above the growth rate of Israel's overall population, a settler group said Tuesday. It predicted even higher growth this year thanks to a nascent building boom made possible by friendly policies of the Trump administration. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

JERUSALEM (AP) — President Donald Trump’s plan for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict paves the way for Israel to annex most or all of its settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The settlement enterprise began immediately after Israel captured east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 war and accelerated through much of the decades-long peace process. It enjoys wide backing among Israelis, many of whom view the settlements as a religious, national or strategic necessity.

The Palestinians view the settlements as illegal and the main obstacle to resolving the conflict, saying they make the establishment of a contiguous, viable Palestinian state virtually impossible. Most of the international community agrees. The International Criminal Court is expected to investigate the settlements as part of a broader probe into alleged violations of international law in the Palestinian territories.

Previous Israeli leaders have said the fate of the settlements should be discussed in peace talks. But there have been no talks in more than a decade, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the settlements are here to stay.

For decades, the U.S. viewed the settlements as “inconsistent with international law,” but Trump reversed that policy last year. His Mideast peace team includes prominent supporters of the settlements, and his plan allows Israel to annex major settlement blocs.

Here is a look at Israel’s settlements.


Over 460,000 Israeli settlers reside in the occupied West Bank and another 215,000 to 300,000 live in annexed east Jerusalem, territories the Palestinians want for their future state. That’s according to West Bank Jewish Population Stats, a settler group that collects official government data, and Peace Now, an Israeli anti-settlement watchdog. Israel removed some 8,000 Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip when it withdrew from the coastal territory in 2005. The West Bank is home to more than 2.5 million Palestinians, and east Jerusalem is home to more than 300,000 Palestinians.


There are around 130 officially recognized settlements and some 110 outposts built without official authorization. The settlements are scattered across the West Bank, occupying many hilltops. The largest are home to tens of thousands of people and are fully developed, with apartment complexes, public parks, shopping malls and factories. Maale Adumim, a settlement near Jerusalem, is home to nearly 40,000 people and resembles an American suburb. At the other end of the spectrum are settlement outposts, often just a few structures set up on remote hilltops. In the West Bank city of Hebron and in parts of east Jerusalem, hard-line settlers live in heavily guarded enclaves within crowded Palestinian neighborhoods, and tensions run high.


The settlers represent a broad cross-section of Israeli Jewish society. While the movement is led by ultra-nationalists who are opposed to a Palestinian state, there are also non-ideological Israelis drawn to the settlements for the quality of life. Home prices are often less than in the major cities, and the main settlement blocs are connected to the rest of Israel by well-maintained roads. Most of the settlements in east Jerusalem are indistinguishable from other Jewish neighborhoods, and Israel considers the entire city its unified capital. The settlers in both territories include secular Israelis, ultra-Orthodox and emigrants from the former Soviet Union.


Israel and the settlers have used various methods to establish and expand settlements. Many were set up on land that Israeli authorities say was vacant or abandoned. Others were established in closed military zones, or on land that Israel says belonged to Jews before Jordan seized control of east Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation. In Hebron and Jerusalem, pro-settler organizations have used middlemen to quietly buy property from Palestinian owners, who would be seen as traitors to the Palestinian cause if the transactions were done in the open. The Palestinians say all settlements are built on land stolen from families or communities.


The settlement enterprise enjoys wide support in Israel. Some view the settlements as a military necessity, saying that giving the entire West Bank to the Palestinians would leave Israel with indefensible borders. Many religious Jews and evangelical Christians view the West Bank as an integral part of the biblical Land of Israel, the land they believe God promised to the Jewish people. Even many Israelis who support a two-state solution to the conflict believe the major settlement blocs — home to the majority of the settler population — would remain part of Israel in any future peace plan. That was discussed in past peace negotiations, but the Palestinians never agreed to it.

The Palestinians immediately rejected the Trump plan, and say they will stick to their core demands regardless of whether Israel annexes territory. Some settler representatives have also given the plan a cool reception because it calls for the potential creation of a Palestinian state in parts of the West Bank.