The two-state solution – and therefore Israel’s Jewish and democratic future – is fatally threatened by relentless expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank and by a host of other Israeli actions that are deepening its control of the land that would comprise the territory of a future Palestinian state.
For more than five decades, the Israeli settlement movement has pushed Israeli governments of all parties single-mindedly and successfully to implement a process of “creeping annexation” of the West Bank aimed at making a two-state solution impossible and a single state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea inevitable.
Checkpoints, settler-only roads, confiscation of private Palestinian land, demolitions, and 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.
To be clear, settlements are not the sole cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which pre-dates the establishment of the first Jewish settlement on the West Bank. Neither are individual settlers personally to blame for the ever-deepening conflict. However, Israeli policy – implemented by governments of all political backgrounds over decades – is responsible for the current situation on the ground that now 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.
This division will only be possible if the settlers’ program of “creeping annexation” is stopped before it is irreversible. That is why, until a negotiated border is established, J Street believes Israel should halt the building and expansion of West Bank settlements and discontinue all other actions that make resolution of the conflict and division of the land into two states more difficult.
To keep the possibility of two states alive, J Street believes that the US and other actors should take the following actions:
1. The United States should take meaningful steps to express clear and unequivocal opposition to Israeli activities on the West Bank that deepen occupation and promote creeping annexation of territory.
While regarding continued settlement activity anywhere in the West Bank as illegal under international law, J Street believes that, at a minimum, the United States should vocally and consistently oppose any settlement expansion outside “the blocs.” By “blocs”, we mean settlements that lie within the route of the security barrier and which are likely to be part of internationally recognized Israel pursuant to a conflict-ending two-state solution with mutually-agreed land swaps. This includes objecting to any building beyond currently-developed land within existing settlement boundaries.
The United States should also oppose other Israeli activities on the West Bank that deepen occupation such as the seizure, appropriation and destruction of Palestinian property.
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 little more than a mild rebuke through the end of the Obama administration, the Israeli government moved full speed ahead with an aggressive program of settlement construction and expansion. In recent years, settlement expansion has picked up speed as the Trump administration has stopped voicing public objections entirely.
J Street believes that the United States should also, at a minimum:
- Return 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.
- Announce that when balanced resolutions, which include condemnation of the settlements, are brought to the UN Security Council, the US will, based on the overall text, not exercise its veto.
- Enforce 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, be transparent about funding to settlements that flows through communal institutions and consider ending funding for projects and activities in the settlements that impede a two-state solution.
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 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.
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.
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 internationally-recognized sovereign Israel, and construction there will be able to continue according to the laws and zoning ordinances of those localities. Settlers who would need to be relocated within the future border of Israel to make peace possible would be compensated.
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 on 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 on the basis of the pre-1967 lines with equivalent swaps.
“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.