Explainer: Israel’s Settlement Enterprise (West Bank & East Jerusalem)

June 13, 2024

What are Israeli settlements?

  • Israeli settlements are segregated housing units for Jewish Israelis built on Palestinian land (the West Bank and East Jerusalem) occupied by the Israeli military in the June 1967 war. Israel also built settlements on Palestinian land in Gaza (which it has militarily occupied since 1967 as well), which were dismantled in 2005 as part of a unilateral Israeli plan to “freeze” peace negotiations with the Palestinians. (Note: Israel has also built settlements on Syrian land in the occupied Golan Heights. This explainer focuses on settlements on Palestinian land.)
  • Israel’s settlement enterprise is intended to cement Israeli control over the Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state as part of a “two-state solution” peace agreement in Palestine/Israel.

Are Israeli settlements legal?

What is United States policy on settlements?

  • With the exception of the administration of President Donald Trump, official United States policy has never accepted Israeli settlements as legal. Despite this, the US has effectively paid for Israel’s settlement enterprise by giving Israel billions of dollars in military and other funding annually for decades. 

What impact do Israeli settlements have on Palestinians?

  • Israeli settlements and settlers - many of them heavily armed, violent religious extremists - cause severe hardships for Palestinians. Settlements surround Palestinian cities and towns, stealing their land and water, separating Palestinian farmers from their fields.
  • Israeli settlers terrorize and attack Palestinians and their property, injuring and killing them, driving them off their ancestral lands and destroying their communities, frequently while accompanied by Israeli soldiers who do nothing to stop the violence and often join in.
  • More than 500 Israeli military checkpoints and other obstacles intended to privilege the movement of settlers make it difficult and dangerous for Palestinians to travel from one place to another on their own land in the West Bank (an area smaller than Delaware) to visit family or friends, go to school, work, the doctor, making it impossible for Palestinians to lead a normal life. Israel has also built hundreds of miles of roads and highways (see interactive map) for settlers to "bypass" Palestinians on their way to Israel's internationally recognized pre-1967 borders and other settlements, further dissecting the land and isolating Palestinians from each other and the outside world.

How many Israeli settlers & settlements are there?

  • There are upwards of 700,000 (as of 2023) Israeli settlers living illegally on occupied Palestinian land, including more than 470,000 in the West Bank and more than 229,000 in East Jerusalem.
  • There are about 350 Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, most of them in the West Bank, with 14 in East Jerusalem. They include more than 145 official settlements and nearly 200 settlement "outposts,” built without official approval but with the support of the Israeli government even though they're illegal under Israeli law as well as international law.

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