One of the starkest threats to the two-state solution – and therefore to Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature – is the relentless expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank, and J Street has long supported calls for a settlement freeze. Against the backdrop of decades of failed peace efforts, the Israeli settlement movement has pushed the Israeli government single-mindedly and successfully to implement its vision of a single state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
Continued settlement growth undermines the prospects for peace by making Palestinians doubt Israeli motives and commitment, and by complicating the territorial compromises that will be necessary in final status talks. The arrangements that have been made for the benefit of settlers and for security – checkpoints, settler-only roads, the route of the security barrier – have all made daily life more difficult for Palestinians, deepening hostility and increasing the odds of violence and conflict. Settlements have strained Israel’s economy, military, and democracy and eroded the country’s ability to uphold the rule of law. A majority of Israelis have recognized this reality and oppose settlement expansion, yet their views have been outweighed by a small, vocal pro-settlement minority.
We recognize that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict pre-dates the establishment of the first Jewish settlement on the West Bank and do not seek to place blame for the present conflict on individual settlers personally. We do, however, hold Israeli policy – implemented by governments of all political backgrounds over decades –responsible for creating the current situation that threatens the security and the future of the national home of the Jewish people.
The solution to the conflict starts with the establishment of an internationally-recognized border through negotiations between Israel and a new state of Palestine. This border will be based on the pre-1967 Green Line, with equivalent swaps of land that allow established Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and some of the large settlement blocs close to the Green Line to be incorporated into the state of Israel. In return, land of equivalent quantity and quality will be swapped from within the pre-1967 Green Line. Settlers who would be relocated within the future border of Israel to make peace possible would be compensated.
Ultimately, the question of settlement expansion should become moot – because the real issue that needs to be addressed and settled quickly is the route of the border between Israel and Palestine. A mutually agreed border drawn according to the international consensus position described above could allow 75 percent or more of all settlers to remain in their current locations. Those settlements will then become part of Israeli recognized sovereign territory and construction there will be able to continue according to the laws and zoning ordinances of those localities.
Yet, until a negotiated border is established, we believe Israel should halt the building and expansion of West Bank settlements as further building directly threatens the cornerstone of any agreed-upon resolution to the conflict: the ability to divide the land into two states.
Toward that end, we believe that:
1. The US government should adopt policies that more strongly convey meaningful American opposition to settlement expansion.
Since the early 1980s, the United States has labeled Israeli settlement expansion “illegitimate” or described it as “unhelpful” to the prospects for peace, softening its prior view that such activity is, in fact, illegal under international law. In the face of what amounts to a mild rebuke, the Israeli government has moved full speed ahead with an aggressive program of settlement construction and expansion.J Street believes that the US government to undertake a thorough review of its policy regarding settlement expansion, considering at a minimum:
- Returning to defining West Bank settlements as “illegal,” as was the position of the US government before the 1980s and as is the view of the United Nations and most other countries including all of the European Union.
- Announcing that the next time a balanced resolution, which includes condemnation of the settlements is brought to the UN Security Council, the US will consider, based on the overall text, not exercising its veto.
- Enforcing existing American customs regulations (in effect since 1995) which require that country-of-origin product labels accurately reflect where products are made when they come from the territory that has been under Israel’s control since 1967.
2. American Jewish organizations and leaders should speak out against settlement expansion, to be transparent about funding to settlements that flows through communal institutions and to consider ending funding for projects and activities in the settlements that impede a two-state solution.
J Street is deeply concerned that the pre-1967 Green Line separating Israel and the occupied territory is being effectively erased both on the ground and in the consciousness of Israelis, Jews and others around the world.The resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will require establishing a border through negotiations between Israel and the new state of Palestine – based, as noted previously, on the pre-1967 Green Line with adjustments. Until that border is negotiated, the Green Line remains the internationally-recognized separation between the state of Israel and the territory won in the Six Day War in 1967.A disturbing and growing lack of awareness of the Green Line is partially responsible for the 47-year occupation fading from the consciousness of the Israeli and international Jewish publics. Efforts to erase the Green Line from maps and from public awareness serve the interests only of those who seek to establish control over all the territory to the Jordan River.One step American community groups, businesses, schools and governments could take to foster memory of the distinction between pre-1967 Israel and the subsequently occupied territory would be to use only maps that include the pre-1967 Green Line – a visual reminder of the Green Line and its significance.More significantly, many American Jewish communal institutions pass contributions through their foundations and other tax-exempt structures to institutions and programs operating on the West Bank. Many of those same organizations’ members don’t even realize that the institutions they support are doing this. Communal institutions should provide full transparency to supporters regarding the source, amount and purpose of funds transferred through their accounts to institutions and programs on the West Bank.Accordingly, J Street believes that American Jewish communal institutions should:
- Speak out strongly and clearly about the danger that settlement expansion poses to Israel’s future and its place in the international community;
- Commit to “remembering the Green Line” – by ensuring that the Line is visible on all maps and in educational materials used by community institutions, synagogues and schools;
- Identify and publicly report funds that are passing through Jewish institutions’ accounts to support activities on the West Bank, and in particular those that are supporting expansion of settlements; and
- Adopt policies that prohibit funds from flowing to projects that create obstacles to achieving a two-state solution.
3. The Israeli government should pursue through negotiations an internationally-recognized border with a new Palestinian state.
With a border established through negotiations on the basis of the pre-1967 lines with equivalent swaps, Israel would be able to build to its heart’s content in communities within the borders of the state of Israel. This would result in an internationally-accepted state for the Jewish people 78 percent of historic Palestine, a magnificent achievement that will assure the security and future of Israel for generations to come. Accordingly, J Street has called on the government of Israel and on the PLO to indicate acceptance of the principle of two states for two peoples established on the basis of the pre-1967 lines with equivalent swaps.
 The “Green Line” is the Armistice Line agreed to at the end of Israel’s War of Independence between Israel and Jordan. From 1949 to 1967, the Green Line marked the eastern boundary of the state of Israel.
I heard settlements only take up around 2 percent of the West Bank, why do you think they’re an obstacle to peace?
Furthermore, many areas zoned for settlements, such as E-1, threaten to bisect and divide the West Bank in ways that would make drawing a contiguous border impossible. In many cases, the placement and expansion of these settlements is deliberately designed to undermine the prospects for a two-state solution.
Do you really think it’s possible to move so many Israelis out of the West Bank in order to reach a two-state solution?
The vast majority of the settler population would be incorporated into Israel as part of a land swap. Polling indicates that almost half of the Israelis living beyond the security barrier would voluntarily relocate to Israel proper if they were compensated. So while relocating tens of thousands of settlers would undoubtedly be challenging, it is both logistically possible and necessary.
By the numbers
The number of settlements in the West Bank
The number of illegal outposts in the West Bank
The number of settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem
The percentage of the West Bank zoned for settlements
The amount the Israeli government spends annually to fund settlements
The percent of Israelis living in areas likely to become part of a Palestinian state under a peace agreement who say they’d voluntarily relocate to Israel-proper, if compensated.