Israeli settler policy in the West Bank must be combated

The Workers Party Group (WPG) has previously distanced itself from Hamas. This is for the organization’s refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist and for the October 7th attack – which showed Hamas’s disregard for both Palestinian and Israeli lives. Hamas will never contribute to a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, there are also other problems that block the possibility of resolving the conflict. In these articles, we address one of the biggest problems of all: Israel’s more than 50-year-old settlement policy.

The State of Israel has always opposed a two-state solution. This applies to the dominant political parties, state administrations, the military, the arms industry, the security services, and the media. Israelis who advocated a two-state solution have always been a minority and today they represent a smaller minority than ever. The Israeli social machinery has always opposed the Palestinian Arabs getting their own state – bordering Israel. This is particularly evident in the case of Israeli settler policy in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

I. The Settlements – A Creeping Colonization

Ever since its victory in the Six-Day War in 1967 – which meant that Israel came to occupy the West Bank and East Jerusalem – Israel has engaged in a creeping colonization (takeover) of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This colonization, which has been going on for more than half a century, constitutes a violation of the laws of war. This is according to, for example, the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 – a convention that Israel has signed. We will return to the legal aspect of the State of Israel’s settlement policy.

But back to the creeping colonization: Let us begin by studying the huge increase in the number of Israeli settlers that has taken place since the 1967 Six-Day War in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Table: Settlements

YearNumber of settlers
1948 (Israel is proclaimed)2 810
197210 531
1993269 200
2010512 629
2023 (January)720 000

Comments: The number of settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has increased dramatically since the Six-Day War in 1967. There is no doubt whatsoever about this trend, as underlined by the table above. However, the exact numbers may vary slightly depending on the source. (The figures in this table are taken from the English Wikipedia – which is based on a solid factual basis.) The same source states that over 500,000 of the settlers live in the West Bank and about 220,000 are in East Jerusalem.

The number and size of settlements

It is also important to know something about the settlements themselves – i.e. about the places where the settlers live and work. There were 132 settlements in the West Bank and 12 in East Jerusalem at the beginning of 2023. The settlements vary greatly, for example in terms of size. Some have over 50,000 inhabitants and are considered cities. Other settlements have the character of smaller agricultural communities.

In addition, there are more than 100 so-called “outposts” in the West Bank. These outposts are smaller settlements that, formally, are considered illegal even under Israeli law. However, an official Israeli report from 2005 (The Sasson Report) showed that the outposts had often been financed with the help of the Israeli state! It is not surprising, therefore, that these “illegal” settlements continue to exist. It is also worth noting that both settler groups and conservative politicians are pushing for the outposts to be converted into ordinary “legal” settlements. It is difficult to draw any other conclusion than that both the settlements that Israel considers legal, and the settlements that are designated as illegal outposts, are part of the same deliberate Israeli settlement policy.

II. The Palestinians are being expelled

The goal of Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank today is to destroy as many Palestinian communities as possible, and to expel as many Palestinians as possible, from the part of the West Bank known as Area C, which makes up just over 60 percent of the entire West Bank. All Jewish settlements are located in Area C. This is where the battle for the West Bank is being fought right now. Because there is no doubt that a battle is indeed being fought by Israel over the West Bank. This is done both violently and by other methods.

The Israeli state is behind the goal of clearing as much of Area C as possible of Palestinians. It cannot be blamed on fanatical settlers who act on their own – other than in exceptional cases. The aim of the Israeli state is to create an environment that is as hostile as possible for the Palestinians. The idea is that they will have enough, give up and move. The smaller Palestinian communities (100-200 individuals) are therefore often deprived of running water and electricity, road transport is hampered by checkpoints, etc., etc.

Many Palestinians in Area C in the West Bank live under the constant threat of violence, directed against both property and persons. These are not empty threats. Bulldozers arriving and destroying the homes of the Palestinians and other buildings that are necessary for agriculture and other livelihoods is a common occurance. And people are being killed. So far, 450 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank in 2023 (December 10). About 200 of these were killed in the “normal” conditions that prevailed before October 7 – the day the war between Israel and Hamas began. The other 250 have been killed since 7 October, while the world’s attention has been on Gaza.

These constant attacks on Palestinian communities in the West Bank’s Area C are sometimes carried out by settlers protected by Israeli soldiers, sometimes by soldiers only, and sometimes by soldiers together with settlers. But all attacks are part of a long-term plan on the part of the Israeli state. The idea is to expel Palestinians from Area C to major Palestinian population centers in Area A – such as Hebron, Jenin, and Ramallah. This policy is backed up by the entire Israeli social machinery: the legal system and the courts, the military, and settlers (protected by the military). The idea is that the combined pressure will make the Palestinians surrender and move “voluntarily”.

If the Palestinians are expelled from Area C, this will create more space for Israeli settlers in this part of the West Bank. This would be an important victory for Israel. But Israel also strives to concentrate the Palestinians in a number of cities in Area A – on a limited area, very densely populated and geographically isolated. If this succeeds, the Palestinians in the West Bank would find themselves in a similar situation to that in the Gaza Strip. The small, densely populated, and isolated towns would lack the strength to support themselves. They would thus also lack the power to lay the foundations for a Palestinian state. This would be a further, and far more decisive, victory for the Israeli state.

III. Israel stays in the West Bank

The State of Israel is aiming for a permanent takeover of very large parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. We do not know how much of these occupied territories Israel intends to take. But the fact that it is indeed a question of a permanent takeover of very large parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem is underlined by several factors. We’ll mention five of the most important.

A first decisive factor is the changes that have been made to Israeli legislation. These changes in legislation have, step by step, given the settlers the same rights as the Israelis living in areas that belonged to Israel before the 1967 Six-Day War. Among other things, the settlers have been given the right to vote. Another crucial factor that also points towards a permanent takeover is Israel’s enormous costs for the settler policy. Calculations made by the Israeli Macro Center for Political Economy indicate that the country’s costs for the settlements, during the period 1967–2018, have amounted to almost 200 billion US dollars! Such sums are not spent on infrastructure, housing, agriculture, manufacturing, and defense facilities, to then just be handed over to groups that Israel view as a threat to its existence.

A third factor concerns the expansion of settlements in the West Bank. According to the Macro Center for Political Economy, the area of settlements has doubled in the last 18 years. In this context, we must once again emphasize, as a fourth factor, the systematic expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The expulsion of Palestinians is the other side of the growing settlement population. A fifth factor is that all Israeli governments since 1967 have combined a policy of expelling the Palestinians with a policy of investing in Jewish settlements. This is regardless of whether the governments’ political orientation has been left, right or center. This policy has been in place for more than half a century. This is perhaps the most telling factor. 

Together, these five factors mean that Israeli policy must be described as a creeping colonization – a permanent takeover – of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Israeli state is apparently planning for both the Israeli settlers and the military (which protects the settlers) to stay in these areas. And if the Israeli settlers and military stay in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, there is no room for a Palestinian state.

IV. The settlements – a violation of international law

Thus, the Israeli settler policy is taking over, step by step, Arab lands within Palestine. Is this legal? An overwhelming majority of legal experts would answer this question with a No. One example is the “International Court of Justice”, seated in The Hague, which is the UN’s main body for legal assessments and judgments. In addition, a large majority of all states in the world consider the Israeli settlement policy to be illegal. What, then, is the basis for legal experts, and the majority of the world’s states, for their view that Israel’s settlement policy is illegal?

Let’s give some examples. The Israeli settler policy violates fundamental treaties such as the Hague Convention of 1907 and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 – the latter of which the State of Israel is also a signatory. These two treaties are particularly important in this context. The Geneva Convention of 1949 states that it is forbidden for an occupying power to forcibly transfer the civilian population of an occupied territory to another country. The Geneva Convention also stipulates that it is forbidden for the occupying power to transfer parts of its own civilian population to the occupied territory.

The Hague Convention of 1907 severely restricts the occupying power’s rights to use public and private property such as agricultural land, forests, and other natural resources, as well as buildings. This is based on the notion that an occupation of a foreign territory should be limited in time and not a permanent state.

Israel refuses to comply with the UN

To this must be added the fact that Israel has systematically refused to comply with a very large number of UN resolutions underlining the illegality of its settlement policy in the occupied territories. Among the UN resolutions are the following:

* General Assembly Resolution 194 in 1948

* Security Council Resolution 242 in 1967

* Security Council Resolution 446 in 1979

* Security Council Resolution 465 in 1980

* Security Council Resolution 2334 in 2016

We would like to focus on two of these: Resolution 465 demanded both that Israel dismantle its then (1980) existing settlements and refrain from any plans for new settlements in the territories that Israel occupied in 1967. Resolution 2334 reaffirms the illegality of Israeli settler policy. The resolution exemplifies the illegality of the construction and expansion of Israeli settlements and the influx of settlers, as well as the expulsion of Palestinian civilians and the confiscation of land and the demolition of homes belonging to Palestinians.

Resolution 2334 also underlines that actions aimed at changing the status of the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in 1967 is against international humanitarian law. The phrase “change of status” refers to the ongoing transformation of former Palestinian territories, such as the West Bank and East Jerusalem, into Israeli territories. The resolution (from 2016) also expresses grave concern that Israeli settler policies jeopardize the possibility of a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. The resolution further calls on Israel to refrain from new settler activities, and to dismantle the settlements built in the last 15 years.

Legal opinions were kept secret

Something that further underlines the illegality of Israeli settler policy is what happened shortly after the Six-Day War in 1967. The then legal adviser to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Theodor Meron, clarified his views on Israeli settlements in the occupied territories to the then Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol. Theodor Meron declared: “My conclusion is that civilian settlement in the administered [occupied] territories is contrary to the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

In this context, it should be mentioned that the legal adviser to the U.S. State Department came to the same conclusion in 1978!

However, Theodor Meron’s position was not made public in 1967. Instead, the government led by Levi Eshkol – a Labour government – allowed the establishment of Israel’s first settlements in the occupied territories. This laid the foundation for the later, and far more extensive, settler policy that has been pursued under various Likud (right-wing) governments.

In practice, Israel does not recognize the Fourth Geneva Convention, which is fundamental to international law. Israel also systematically refuses to comply with UN resolutions. This is facilitated by the fact that the United States, along with most of the rest of the so called “Western world”, turns a blind eye to Israel’s violations of international law. This is a double standard.

If the settlers’ arguments about their “historical right” to the land, based on diffuse conditions 4000 years ago, was applied to border disputes all around the world, the word “chaos” would not suffice to describe the situation. It would result in an infinite number of new wars. The settlers who use arguments based on a “historical right” cannot be taken seriously – except by other fanatics. 


We began by declaring that Hamas, by refusing to accept Israel’s existence and by its aggression in October, will never contribute to a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Any solution must include Israel’s right to exist as a state – behind recognized and secure borders.

But ever since the Israeli state was proclaimed in 1948, it has thwarted all attempts of creating a Palestinian state. We are not pitting Israel against Hamas (or against the Palestinian Authority) to try to determine which party is the biggest obstacle for peace. However, after studying Israel’s settlement policy, we maintain that the policy of the Israeli state machine is to deprive the Palestinians of any possibility of creating their own state.

New Wars or Revolution

The position of the Workers’ Party Group in this conflict is based on the following: both the Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Arabs have developed their own national identity. We therefore recognize the right of both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs to demand, and work for, their own states.

It has been 75 years since the State of Israel was proclaimed. If there is one thing that all these years have shown, it is that today’s regimes in the Middle East are completely incapable of creating a two-state solution. Among the “hopeless” regimes are Palestine’s various leaderships and the Israeli state machinery, but also the regimes in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq. The only way forward is a social and political revolution in the Middle East that changes the internal character of the states involved – including Palestine and Israel.

The Arab Spring of 2011 showed the way forward. The only thing that the existing regimes can offer is another 75 years of war and terror, death and hatred.

How Israel defends its settler policy

The legal core of how the Israeli State defends the settler policy is that the Six-Day War of 1967 created a fundamental ambiguity, a legal vacuum, as to who had the right to decide over the occupied territories. This was because Israel had taken control of the West Bank and other territories in “self-defense”. Israel further argues that military needs make it permissible to use land and buildings temporarily. Israel also believes that the settlements are necessary for the security of the state.

Non-legal arguments have also emerged in defense of the settlements. Large parts of the settler movement have been radicalized. Many of the most fanatical settlers believe that the Jews have a “historical right” to the West Bank, since their ancestors are believed to have lived there since biblical times.

We rebuke Israel’s arguments

a) There is nothing temporary about the Israeli military’s use of land and buildings in Palestine. Israeli settler policy has been in place since 1967 – for more than half a century – and has been constantly strengthened (see the table on the increase in the number of settlers).
b) One of the most decisive arguments against the settler policy can be found in the Fourth Geneva Convention – which Israel has approved. It stipulates that it is forbidden for an occupying power to forcibly transfer the civilian population of an occupied territory to another country, and that it is also forbidden for the occupying power to transfer parts of its own civilian population to the occupied territory. These displacements – the expulsion of Palestinians, and the immigration of their own Jewish population – are at the heart of the Israeli state’s settlement policy. And the occupation is therefore a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Four demands to fight for

The following demands are reasonable and correct, if not sufficient, in the light of the history that has unfolded in Palestine since the proclamation of the State of Israel in 1948. But the demands will never be realized as long as the people of the Middle East have not freed themselves from capitalism and imperialism – including the State of Israel and the dominant organizations in Palestine. The following demands can be realized only after a political and social revolution. This means that the struggle for the demands, and for revolution, must go hand in hand.

Four demands and one comment:
1) Israel must withdraw to the pre-Six-Day War 1967 borders.
2) A first step in this direction is for Israel to comply with UN Resolution 2334. This means, among other things, that Israel refrains from new settler activities in the West Bank and dismantles the settlements that were built from the year 2000 onwards.
3) A second step is that Israel accepts the Geneva Convention and accepts that the Palestinians who were expelled from the territories occupied in 1967 have the right to return.
4) Israel must accept a two-state solution – if the Palestinian Arabs demand it.

Comment: Israel cannot resolve this conflict on its own. The Palestinian Arabs and surrounding states – Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, etc. – must recognize Israel’s right to exist as a state behind recognized and secure borders. The same must be true in the other direction as well. Israel must recognize the right of a future Palestinian state to exist behind recognized and secure borders. The same guarantees must also be given to the other states in the region.

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