This article sets out to outline some of the constants and variables in Israel's concept of Jewish settlement on Palestinian territory and its implementation mechanisms since the turn of the last century. It will also look at settlement planning policies and give an overview of the current situation of Israeli settlement in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories. Circumstances on the Israeli, Arab and international scenes may have changed, yet with some necessary adjustments, the settlement pattern has remained the same throughout the years.

The Concept and Inception of Israeli Settlement

The Zionist colonial settlement process had its inception at the end of the 19th century with the advent of organized waves of Jewish immigrants to Palestine. They established rural settlements there as the instruments for the Zionist revival of the Jewish people in Palestine. The Zionists claimed they inherited religious and historical ties to the place, although the Zionist movement itself was ostensibly a secular and not a religious movement. This linkage between the three elements - religion, ethnicity and place - remains a constant in Zionist thought, seeking means for the consolidation of the Zionist presence through the Judaization of the land and the supplanting of the original inhabitants. Zionist settlement in Palestine, practically and conceptually, is an example of a colonialism movement although it differs from other such movements in its causes and motives. It led to the catastrophe that has befallen another people in Palestine.
Before the onset of Jewish settlement, Palestinian towns were inhabited by Jewish minorities, as was the case with other Arab or Western countries. This changed with the emergence of Zionist settlement and the drive toward the building of agricultural colonies - based on the notion that agricultural settlement is the means of controlling the widest land area possible. Towards this end, concepts and mechanisms of organized cooperatives were developed: kibbutz, moshav, moshava. These terms differ from the usual designations used in human geography literature for physical rural and urban settlements.
Semantics are used to create an ethical and legal atmosphere for the Zionist presence in the Land, and help give local and international prominence to its project. This is seen, for example, in the use of certain terms like "pioneers," for the new colonialists or founders; "ascent" (aliyah), for immigration to Israel; "descent" (yeridah), for emigration from Israel; "liberation of the land," for a land transaction with the Arabs, who are termed "foreigners." This terminology persists to this day as a motivating factor and an ethical/moral inducement for settlement in the Palestinian territories, so much so that the word for settlement in Hebrew "hitnachalut"comes from the root of the word "heritage/inheritance" and "heirs," which is a positive concept; even its translation "settler" or "mityashev" in Hebrew is a positive concept. The terminology used and the names given to places as part of the settlement project seek to divest it with an aura of morality and to identify it as a positive phenomenon that is incumbent upon the Jewish people to defend. These sustain the Zionist collective memory, emphasizing the right of the Jews to the Land. It is true that a controversy exists today within Israeli society regarding the right to settle Palestinian territory. However, these disagreements revolve around methods of giving legitimacy and imparting morality to the settlements established before and after the creation of Israel within its own borders, settlements that have led to Jewish instead of Palestinian presence there.
The various stages of Jewish settlement development in Mandatory Palestine (where the number of settlements reached approximately 1,073 sites, including towns, villages, kibbutzim, moshavim, moshavot), follow a reverse paradigm. The process of self-promotion and international promotion consists of three components: reality, legality and right/morality. Jewish settlement begins with the construction of the reality that will implement Zionist ideology and will lead to a control over resources (land, water, and economy), and the military defense of the settlements. Following the creation of the fact on the ground, starts the search for regional and international legality. Once this has been acquired in accordance with international conventions, the advancement of right/morality begins in order to furnish an incentive for the perpetuation of settlement. This paradigm, which characterizes the settlement process, has not changed; otherwise how can legality be extended to settlements in East Jerusalem that are now called "neighborhoods"?
Currently, Israel has placed on its negotiating agenda territorial solutions to ensure that more than 80 percent of the settlements in the occupied territories remain within Israel's internationally recognized borders. This implies the adjustment of Israel's borders to include areas outside its 1949 borders, which the Arab countries, including the Palestinians, have recognized. The Israelis have already started talking about the "immorality" of the "transfer" of Jewish settlers from the Palestinian territories, despite the fact that they had no right to be there in the first place. Under the directives of the various Israeli governments and the Jewish Agency, they aimed to assure the revival of the Jewish people in what they call "the historical Land of Israel." It is this legality that the international community has extended to what has been won through the language of force and hegemony, its inherent immorality notwithstanding; this is what still sustains the process of Jewish settlement building and expansion in Palestinian territory.
Jewish settlement today is still evolving and expanding according to a pre-state mindset and vision. The process of settlement building in the Galilee, the Negev and the Arab Triangle aims at intensifying the Judaization of these areas where the Palestinian minority lives.
Undoubtedly, Israeli obsession with security, the desire for land control, and restricting Palestinian development, are the prime motives for the building of settlements: "Wherever there is a Jewish settlement, there is Jewish sovereignty." To carry out this project, Israel has adopted a threefold strategy:

* that no independent Arab/Palestinian state be established west of the Jordan River in Mandatory Palestine;
* that no continuous Palestinian presence exist in the territories without its being dissected by a Jewish presence;
* that no majority of Arab/Palestinian population concentration be allowed within an extensive land area in Mandatory Palestine.

This strategy is further based on the elements of security, geography-space, and demography, and applies on all three levels: regional, territorial and local. Thus, Israel has built settlements in the Jordan Valley (the Ghor), to separate the West Bank from Jordan; and in the south of the Gaza Strip, to separate it from Egypt. Additionally, settlements have been built all along the Green Line to form a belt or fence obstructing any possible continuity between the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians in Israel and those in the West Bank. The latter plan was implemented through the building of 13 settlements along the Green Line called the Stars Plan (Tochnit Ha-Kokhavim). Currently, a settlement project is in the offing in "the Hebron periphery," where eight settlements are projected in order to block any connection between Gaza and the north of the Negev with a concentration of Palestinian residents, on the one hand, and with the West Bank, on the other. This separation between the borders of the state and the clusters of Palestinian population impedes the establishment of a Palestinian state, with control over its natural resources and connected with its neighboring Arab countries.

Spatial Planning Policies

The Israeli authorities have devised planning policies designed to control the land and to facilitate the building of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. These policies are in essence based on the concept of fragmentation. Settlement blocs are built along roads that criss-cross the length and breadth of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, dissecting them into sub-units, thus creating a disjointed Palestinian space. As an example, the West Bank was divided into three areas: the north, the center and the south, all separated from the Gaza Strip. This cantonization of the West Bank and its division into areas A, B, and C, leaving Area C, which includes most of the Jewish settlements, under Israeli control during the interim period is nothing but the implementation of this policy of a disconnected Arab/Palestinian presence. So too is the expansion of settlements around Jerusalem, like Ma'aleh Adumim, Givat Ze'ev, Kokhav Ya'acov, etc., and the plan to annex them to the city, which Barak is reported to have called for during the Camp David II negotiations.
The building of Jewish settlements is not the only policy leading to the fragmentation of Palestinian land or space. Israel also achieves this through the confiscation of Palestinian land, which then automatically comes under Israeli administrative control, as well as through the blocking of Palestinian development by means of restrictive planning in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This results in a shared space, with a dual Palestinian and Israeli presence on Palestinian land.
Regarding the demographic component, Israel attempts to attract Jews from all over the world to immigrate to Israel and proceeds to settle them in areas with a Palestinian majority. This policy shifts the demographic balance in Israel's favor in any given area of Palestine. It is best exemplified by what is occurring in Arab East Jerusalem, where the Israeli authorities have been trying to uphold the equation of a 30-percent Palestinian and a 70-percent Israeli presence in the city. This equation governs all planning and building policies in the city, as well as the provision of services to the Palestinian residents there. The present settlement activities in Ras al-Amud, Jabal al-Masharef, Jabal Abu Ghneim/Har Homa, Sheikh Jarrah and the Old City seek, in effect, the fragmentation of Palestinian continuity that will stand in the way of any eventual autonomy or independence on the part of the Palestinian people.
This fragmentation strategy has been achieved by the Israeli authorities - and before then by the Jewish Agency - through the use of "partisan planning" that relied on two principles: encirclement and then penetration. That is, the first step in the process is the establishment of settlements or the consolidation of a Jewish presence around a Palestinian and Arab presence. At this stage, confrontation between the two parties is still weak. Once this Jewish presence has been consolidated, begins the second step - the penetration of Palestinian/Arab space in order to fragment it and control its resources. This planning procedure is carried out on all levels: regional, territorial and city, the best example being the city of Jerusalem.
Thus the evolution of Jewish settlement in the Palestinian territories forms an extension, both physically and conceptually, of the process that marked the establishment of settlements in Palestine during the last century. This constant adapts itself to changing circumstances, but does not constitute a basic departure from the original conception that uses the obsession with security as the justification for the establishment and expansion of these settlements.

The Present Reality - Jewish Settlements
in the Palestinian Territories

Jewish settlement building in the Palestinian territories came in the wake of the 1967 occupation of these lands. It began with the "revival" of Jewish presence in the Old City in the Moghrabi Quarter, al-Sharq and al-Midan after their demolition and emptying of their Palestinian residents. Settlements were later built near the Syrian border on the Golan Heights, in the Jordan Valley, in the south of Gaza and in the north of Sinai, with the purpose of splitting the Arab countries and the Palestinians by means of settlement belts. Most of the areas where these settlements were built were sparsely populated by Arabs who had fled or had been expelled during the 1967 war and after.
The process of penetration of Palestinian presence by Jewish settlement started in 1974 with the right-wing religious Gush Emunim movement, backed by the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency. Settlements were then built close to Palestinian cities and villages - Beit El near Ramallah, Kiryat Arba near Hebron, and Elon Moreh near Nablus. Since the mid-1970s, settlement expansion began near the Green Line through the building of the settlements of Immanuel, Ariel, Beit Arieh, etc., which lie within the sub-urban space of metropolitan Tel Aviv. In parallel, a sub-urbanization process was embarked upon in the Jerusalem environs through the establishment of middle-class settlements, such as Ma'aleh Adumim, that forms the second belt surrounding Jerusalem. The first belt is made up of settlements that lie within the expanded 1967 municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, like French Hill, Gilo, Ramot, and Talpiyot. Settlements like Betar, Illit and Efratah were also built for Jewish religious groups. These were thickened and expanded with the coming to power in 1977 of the Likud, which gave priority to settlements in areas inhabited by Palestinians. The following table shows the growth in the number of the settler population in Palestinian territories in selected years and their projected number according to the grand Israeli plan for 2020. There are at present 180,000 Jewish settlers (excluding East Jerusalem), making up approximately 3 percent of the population of Israel.

Table 1. The number of Jewish settlers in the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967, excluding East Jerusalem

Year Number of Settlers Growth Ratio
1976 3,176 -
1981 16,119 407
1986 51,100 217
1996 147,000 187
1997 160,200 9
1998 171,600 7
2020 310,000 81

Sources: The Israel Statistical Yearbook, 1999, No. 49;
Settlers in 1998: Peace Now Statistics;
and Forecasts for the Year 2020;

Grand Territorial Plan for Israel, No. 35.

Jewish settlers living in the Palestinian territories can be divided into three categories. The first are those groups of "pioneers," the founders of settlements who see themselves as continuing the Zionist movement's aim to Judaize the country. These settlers receive the backing of the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency and comprise both religious and secular Jews. The second category is that of settlers who live in Jerusalem and its environs for purely religious motives - the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) - or for national-religious reasons, like the followers of the National Religious Party (Mafdal). The third category includes those settlers who went to live in the occupied territories initially for economic reasons, lured by the Israeli government's incentives and financial backing, such as reduced land and housing prices, and receiving benefits as priority development areas. No data or estimates exist regarding the size or number of each group.
Over 200 settlement sites have been established in the occupied Palestinian territories, with around 159 urban/civilian settlements (according to General Shlomo Banai, head of the army planning division, July 1998). These settlements (excluding those of East Jerusalem) are built on developed lands on a surface area of 78,789.5 dunums or 1.36 percent of Palestinian lands, according to Israeli Peace Now data. On the other hand, these settlements control vast tracts of Palestinian territory that is still under Israeli occupation and that constitutes 70 percent of Palestinian lands.
The following table shows the distribution of these settlements according to population and size at the end of 1998.

Table 2. Distribution of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip according to size

Number of persons Number of urban Percentage
in a settlement settlements
Fewer than 100 19 11.9
100-500 88 55.4
500-1,000 23 14.5
1,000-2,000 13 8.2
2,000-5,000 8 5.0
5,000-10,000 4 2.5
More than 10,000 4 2.5

This table indicates that in 82 percent of the settlements the number of settlers does not exceed 1,000. The distribution of large settlements is to be found in the sub-urban areas of metropolitan Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The rest of the settlements are small, but exist for the purpose of controlling Palestinian space, land and natural resources. The consolidation of the presence of outlying settlements in sensitive areas remains an Israeli strategic constant in the occupied Palestinian territories. Today, the Jordan Valley settlements rely on agriculture, while the other settlements deal with services, industry and management. The economic base of these settlements may have shifted, but this new form of settlement strives for the same aims that prompted the establishment of the first agricultural settlements in the last century.


The above discussion has shown that the Zionist settlement project continues through the construction and extension of settlements in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories. The purpose is to change the reality there and subsequently to ask for international legitimacy for this new reality, though it arose forcibly and in violation of all international rules and laws.
The concept of settlement as a physical expression through which is realized the revival of the Jewish people in a Jewish state in Palestine remains a constant of Zionist ideology. So too does the pursuit for the control of natural resources through the establishment of settlements, despite the change in their size, site, economic bases and population characteristics. That is why a continued consolidation of Jewish settlement in the Palestinian territories and East Jerusalem will form a barrier and an intractable obstacle to a political settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. If Israel seeks regional stability, it should stop settlement activity and should instigate a change in the settlement mentality, both on the popular and decision-making levels. It should turn away from an expansionist mindset and a fixation with security that, at the end of the day, not only come at the expense of the Palestinian people, but ultimately threaten their own security. Instead, Israel should foster a mentality of peace and recognize the right of Palestinians to independence and to a life of dignity and justice.