Why does Israel build settlements in Palestine?
I understand that one of the major issues between Israel and Palestine are Israeli settlements in Palestinian land. Israel keeps building these settlements, despite what I understand to be the international consensus that doing so is illegal. I would also expect that this puts the settlers in greater danger (though I can't speak to that statistically). So why does Israel continue to do it? What does it stand to gain?
Does she? I mean I've seen many news about Israeli settlement "expansion" in various international media but when looked into it all turned out building new houses within the borders of already existing settlements.
This requires a bit of a history lesson. In 1949, after the first Arab-Israeli war, Israel gained its independence. Israel negotiated with its neighbors the 1949 Armistice Agreements. These agreements established the 1949 Armistice Lines (often referred to as the 1967 borders, for reasons that will shortly become apparent) as de facto borders.
However, these lines were never intended to be final borders. Every Arab country bordering Israel except Lebanon (meaning Syria, Egypt, and Jordan) had clauses in the armistice agreements specifying that the armistices lines were temporary, and were not meant to define final borders. The most relevant agreement here is Israel's agreement with Jordan. The Jordanian agreement specified that the borders existed only out of military necessity and could be changed. From the agreement with Jordan:
no provision of this Agreement shall in any way prejudice the rights, claims and positions of either Party hereto in the ultimate peaceful settlement of the Palestine question, the provisions of this Agreement being dictated exclusively by military considerations.
In June of 1967, Egypt blockaded the Strait of Tiran, which Israel stated it would consider an act of war. Israel responded by destroying the Egyptian airforce. Faced with an Egyptian, Syrian, and Jordanian invasion, Israel defeated the three Arab armies in six days.
Israel captured the Sinai and the Gaza Strip from Egypt. Israel would give the Sinai back to Egypt in the 1979 Camp David Accords, and unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza strip according to the 2005 Unilateral Disengagement Plan.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria, and annexed the Golan Heights in 1981 via the Golan Heights Law. Though the armistice agreement with Syria stressed the mutability of the armistice lines, and though Syria refused Israel's offer, to return the Golan Heights in exchange for peace, that annexation is not internationally recognized.
Finally, we come to the West Bank. The West Bank was captured from Jordan, though only East Jerusalem has been annexed by Israel. Since the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, Israeli settlements are within the West Bank. At first, settlements were established by Israeli citizens, but with implicit government approval (Source: The Accidental Empire by Gershom Gorenberg).
Many of these settlements were established on land you'd be hard pressed to call Palestinian. The Palestinians never held sovereignty over the West Bank, and rejected all promises of sovereignty over those areas (including in 1936-1937, 1938, and 1947), and some of the areas on which settlements were established, like Gush Etzion and Hevron, had Jewish communities that had existed sometimes for thousands of years before they were depopulated in Arab riots and by Arab armies in Israel's war for independence.
You are correct that the international community considers the settlements illegal, but just to clear up confusion, that's not because the settlements were established on land belonging to another party. Rather, the settlements are considered illegal because they are considered to violate the Geneva Convention's prohibition on population transfer. The Geneva Convention prohibits a state from transferring its population into occupied territory (though it should be noted that settlers moving to occupied territory were not coerced). Though the international consensus is that the settlements are illegal, there is still legal dispute about this issue. As Julius Stone, former Professor of International Law at the University of Sydney points out:
We would have to say that the effect of Article 49(6) is to impose an obligation on the State of Israel to ensure (by force if necessary) that these areas, despite their millennial association with Jewish life, shall be forever judenrein. Irony would thus be pushed to the absurdity of claiming that Article 49(6), designed to prevent repetition of Nazi-type genocidal policies of rendering Nazi metropolitan territories judenrein, has now come to mean that ... the West Bank .. must be made judenrein
Finally, we can consider why Israel continues to promote settlement growth. Though there may be specific political reasons for specific settlement projects, the overarching reason Israel promotes settlement growth is security. Under the armistices lines, Israel was cut off by the West Bank, and enemy borders were close to population centers. For example, the distance between the West Bank city of Qalqilya and the Mediterranean sea is only about 9 miles.
If you look at Israel's justifications for its settlements, from Ariel to the E1 Plan, they largely involve establishing a foothold on land it can use to protect itself (though one of the largest Israel settlements, Ma'ale Adumim, is also intended to provide cheap housing to people who can't afford to live in Jerusalem). Former International Court of Justice justice and State Department Legal Advisor Stephen Schwebel defended the settlements as justified by military necessity, saying:
(a) a state [Israel] acting in lawful exercise of its right of self-defense may seize and occupy foreign territory as long as such seizure and occupation are necessary to its self-defense;
(b) as a condition of its withdrawal from such territory, that State may require the institution of security measures reasonably designed to ensure that that territory shall not again be used to mount a threat or use of force against it of such a nature as to justify exercise of self-defense;
It is commonly claimed that the establishment of Israeli settlements constitutes a land grab, however this claim does not stand up to scrutiny. The settlement blocs Israel wishes to keep in an agreement with Palestine comprise only a few percent of the West Bank, and Israel is willing to transfer an equal amount of land in exchange for those settlements.
In 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made an offer to the Palestinians in which Israel would retain some settlement blocs and transfer an equal amount of land from behind the armistice lines to Palestine. Here is an approximate map (I say approximate because no official maps were produced). Given that Israel is willing to transfer to Palestine as much land as it wishes to keep, the settlements cannot sensibly be framed as a land grab: they grant Israel no additional land.
In terms of danger: the settlements experienced a good deal of violence during the Second Intifada: hundreds of Israeli civilians died. However, since Israel installed a wall surrounding most of the settlement population, terrorist incidents have been substantially reduced, meaning that security is less of an issue for settlers now.
I recognize this may be somewhat more of an answer than you were looking for, and it does cover more than you may have expected, but hopefully it gives you a better idea of the context of the settlements and why Israel pursues them. I suppose the TL;DR version of this is that Israel is promoting settlements on land that isn't Palestinian for security reasons.
The land swap proposed (2008) didn't swap land of the same value but of the same size. Of course palestinians will disagree it's obvious. If you are offered 2 km of desert for 2 km of fertile land would you agree???
@joze it actually was the same amount of land. Quality is subjective, but Israel was willing to cede all the fertile land in Jordan Valley, and wasn't keeping fertile farmland but populated Israeli areas. so this desert for fertile lands trade you think is going on was never proposed
@Avi Nevertheless the land given is far away from the palestine populated areas, which requires infraestructure to get to and fro, if there where compensation for infraestructure it would have been more reasonable. In any case your answer only portrays the Israeli side, and for the sake of neutrality you should also put the palestine side besides saying that they refused all ouvertures and that the Israelis have been very "accommodating" in this issue.
@Joze The land Israel offered is near Palestinian population centers in Gaza, and also near (though slightly further from) Palestinian population centers in Hevron. Furthermore, the development of roads to move Palestinians among populated areas was part of the offer. Rather than portraying either the Israeli side or the Palestinian side, I prefer to relay the facts.
To make this answer less biased I would suggest either removing your quotes supporting Israeli annexation of foreign territory, or provide additional quotes that show the alternative point of view.
This is a dreadful answer, I'm not exactly shocked that it has received so many upvotes given the nature of the Stack community though.There is plenty of evidence that the settlements are a blatant land grab, that their intention is to prevent the creation of a contiguous (viable) Palestinian state. It's not just the settlements, but the infrastructure required to connect them all that carves the West Bank up. The unilateral Gaza withdrawal was intended to prevent Palestinian negotiations (google Gaza formaldehyde). The idea that the settlement growth is for security is patently ridiculous...
I don't understand how putting civilians in potentially harm's way possibly contributes to Israeli security. If they need land in the WB for military purposes then surely they would have just used it as such without bringing along civilians.
@Icarian : One might reasonably ask why the "international community" objects to Israel building settlements on land it conquered, but no similar objection seems to be made to Russia holding on to the large chunk of Finland that it conquered in 1939-40, and very little objection to China occupying Tibet,,,
@jamesqf Did Russia ethnically cleanse the Finnish people living there? Also, I don't know what world you're living in, but on Tibet at least, I've seen a lot of objection, a lot of protests and a lot of publicity. Finland, not so much, this is the first I've heard of it. Also, I'm sure you are aware that Russia is being sanctioned for it's annexation of Crimea. Israel has yet to face any sanctions for it's occupation, population transfer and annexation of Palestinian territories. Some would say that Israel is getting special treatment relative to Russia.
@Icarian: That depends on just what you mean by "ethnically cleanse". Almost all the Finnish population left the area the Soviets conquered: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evacuation_of_Finnish_Karelia Which is a good parallel to many (but far from all) the Arab residents of Israel voluntarily leaving during the Israeli war of independence. The main difference is that most of them seem to have expected to return fairly soon, after the Arab armies had ethnically cleansed the land of Jews. Obviously, they were disappointed :-)
I've never heard Finns talking about the ethnic cleansing by Russia or any desire to return or reclaim that land. Perhaps they were content with still having most of Finland to call home. The Palestinian situation was quite different. Also "the Arab residents of Israel voluntarily leaving during the Israeli war of independence" ? Really? That phrasing is revealing of an extreme bias. They left because they feared being killed in a war, had no army and no weapons. Using that as justification for the seizure of their property and ethnic cleansing of the majority of the population is disgusting.