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Settlements Remain Detrimental to Peace

As the end of the year approaches, many of us long for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Our hope and advocacy efforts focus on bringing an end to the occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza that began in 1967. At that time, small groups of Jewish citizens began to settle in the West Bank and became known as “settlers.” By 2018, according to Peace Now, the Israeli settlement population grew to more than 400,000 Israelis. Today, more than 125 settlements exist in the West Bank, formally approved by the Israeli government. You can see these small (and sometimes large) cities scattered across the hilltops through much of the West Bank. 

According to Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, international law defines settlements as illegal. The Article states, “The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” However, the United States government falls short of deeming settlements as illegal. The U.S. has had a long history of defining settlements as unhelpful and impediments to peace, but fails to go further. One of the most profound moves of the U.S. government related to this issue occurred under the Obama Administration, in December 2016, when the United States abstained from voting on UN Security Council Resolution 2334 that declared Israeli settlements illegal and defined their continuing construction a “flagrant violation” of international law.

Implementing the E1 settlement proposal would mean the complete death of their aspirations for a two state solution.

This Fall, Israel proposed its first settlement expansion since President Biden came to office. For individuals paying close attention to settlement expansion in East Jerusalem, the term “E1” has become very familiar. This hot topic geographic area runs on roughly 4.6 square miles of rocky terrain could become a land bridge that connects the city of Jerusalem to Maale Adumim, one of the largest Jewish settlement blocs with more than 40,000 residents.(1) A settlement community in E1 would cut off Palestinians living in East Jerusalem from Jericho and other parts of the West Bank, essentially severing it in half by creating a dividing line between the north and south. For Palestinians who hope for East Jerusalem to become the future capital of a Palestinian state, implementing the E1 settlement proposal would mean the complete death of their aspirations for a two state solution.

On October 12, 2021, Israel announced three large settlement projects including E1, Givat Hamatos, and Atarot. Hagit Ofran, director of Peace Now’s new settlement watch team, said of these plans: “The three plans are dramatically lethal for the potential of peace or potential of a future Palestinian state side by side with Israel...” While the Biden Administration has repeatedly called on Israel not to expand its settlement activity, the general response of the Israeli government has been that they will continue to build. 

The expansion of settlements in parts of the occupied Palestinian territories remains one of the greatest impediments to peace.

Following the announcement, in a rare critical response, the United States voiced opposition and declared further settlement expansion detrimental to the two state solution. Secretary of State Tony Blinken called Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz in a “tense phone call” and stated that the number of housing units and their location deep within the West Bank were “unacceptable” according to Israeli officials. However, according to Al Jazeera, when asked if there might be accountability from the United States if the settlement expansion continued, Department of State spokesperson Ned Price remained “noncomittal.”  

In a further move ignoring U.S. concerns, on November 24, 2021 the Israeli Jerusalem Municipality announced it would be moving forward with what it described as “a new eastern ‘neighbourhood’ on lands located over Israel’s separation wall.” Under the plan, 3,000 initial homes would be built with an additional 6,000 homes to be added in the future. 

The expansion of settlements in parts of the occupied Palestinian territories remains one of the greatest impediments to peace. The organization I lead, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) welcomed the Biden Administration’s formal objections, but also acknowledged that “verbal opposition is not enough.” Calling on the US government to enact tangible consequences, including, but not limited to: 

  • Renewing the US government’s determination that the very existence of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories is inconsistent with international law.
  • Removing all vestiges of the Trump Administration’s actions to treat Israeli settlements as legitimate parts of Israel.
  • Supporting legislation preventing US government funds from being used for human rights violations, such as Rep. McCollum’s bill, H.R.2590 to prevent US military assistance from being used for child detentions, further annexing Palestinian land, and demolishing Palestinian homes or structures. 
  • Supporting efforts at the United Nations to strongly protest increasing settlement activity and other human rights violations.

On October 26, State Department Spokesperson Price said, “We strongly oppose the expansion of settlements, which is completely inconsistent with efforts to lower tensions and to ensure calm, and it damages the prospects for a two-state solution.” The time has come for “strongly oppose” to be transformed into action, not only words. This is our hope and prayer as 2021 comes to a close. 


(1) Erlanger, "West Bank Land, Empty but Full of Meaning."

Photo by Dave Herring on Unsplash


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