With the recent election of the Netanyahu government, the issue of settlements has again emerged in the media as an issue in the “peace process.” Settlement leaders have proposed spending $4 billion to expand settlements by as many as 120,000 housing units to accommodate an additional 500,000 people by the year 2000. Ariel Sharon recently proposed immediately allowing 100,000 new settlers to settle the West Bank. The new government has already transferred $6.5 million for the construction of bypass roads, and announced the immediate construction of 3,800 new housing units on the West Bank. Netanyahu claims that the Oslo agreement’s wording is loose enough that this in no way violates the final status negotiations.

Finance Minister Dan Meridor (Likud) recently thanked the Labor government for expanding the population of the West Bank and Gaza settlements by 40,000 during its tenure from 1992 until May 1996, saying it had simplified Likud’s designs. Meridor thanked the US and even the Palestinian Authority (PA) for overlooking this increasing the settler population. While a certain amount of this population increase can be attributed to natural population increases from new births, almost 70 percent of the increase comes from either “internal migration” (migration across the Green Line from Israel) or from immigrants to Israel. Interestingly, the US considers this internal migration to fit the category of natural increase, explaining, at least in part, its failure to oppose settlement expansion. This also implies that the US would not oppose a “natural increase” of 500,000 new settlers from within Israel proper.

Although Rabin froze the construction of new settlements, existing settlements were allowed to expand and expropriate Palestinian land. Settlements such as Ariel have grown by 17 percent since 1992. [1] In one rather egregious and well publicized case, settlers from the Efrat settlement attempted to confiscate 125 acres of the Palestinian village of al-Khadar in January 1995. Although the Israeli government halted that expropriation, it allowed construction to continue at a nearby site. Over 5,000 new units were under construction in the West Bank in mid-1995, and another 5,600 construction starts had been approved. [2] While individual events such as Efrat embarrassed the Labor government, all parties, including the US and the PA, remained silent as the settlements expanded.

Settlement population during the Labor period grew by an even greater percentage in occupied East Jerusalem, from 147,000 in 1992 to 200,000 in 1996. In addition to those settlers living inside the physical boundaries of East Jerusalem, the Israeli government has built rings of settlements in the adjacent areas of the West Bank intending to eventually connect them to Jerusalem. Former Labor Minister of Housing and Construction Binyamin Ben Eliezer stated that Ma’aleh Adumim and Givat Ze’ev would constitute a part of Jerusalem, and each year new “units” will be built to join these settlements to Jerusalem. [3] In 1995, the Labor government allocated $17.5 million to build 4,100 new “units” in the four ”Greater Jerusalem” settlements of Givat Ze’ev, Beitar, Ma’aleh Adumim and Kiryat Sefer. These direct subsidies do not include indirect government subsidies when land is sold far below market cost.

Expansion on the Golan also proceeded at a rapid rate during Labor’s tenure. In the settlement of Katzrin, for example, the population increased by more than one third from 1992 to 1995. [4] Much of the “internal migration” leading to this population rise was spurred, as in other areas, by land prices significantly below market value.

Although the Labor governments of Rabin and Peres facilitated the explosion of the settlement population and the further marginalization of the Palestinians, the present government has even more ominous plans. In addition to the continued expansion of existing settlements, new settlements and bypass roads are being built, and more Palestinian land is being expropriated.


[1] Report on Israeli Settlement in the Occupied Territories (May 1996), p. 5.
[2] “West Bank Settlements,” Journal of Palestine Studies 25/1 (Autumn 1995), p. 138.
[3] Geoffrey Aronson, “Settlement Report,” Journal of Palestine Studies 24/3 (Spring 1995), p. 125.
[4] lbid.

How to cite this article:

Michael Webb "Settlement Expansion Update," Middle East Report 201 (Winter 1996).

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