How Israeli Settlements Work

Settlements and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

To the current Israeli government and supporters in Israel and the U.S., the settlers are entitled to live in the West Bank for reasons we explained earlier. Since Jordan abandoned its claim to the West Bank back in 1988, the settlers argue that there's no nation with legal sovereignty over the land to prevent them from moving in [source: Kifner].

Opponents see the settlements as part of an intentional Israeli strategy to take over the West Bank permanently. To them, the settlements' presence throughout the area gives the Israeli military a justification for being there as well, and makes it impossible for the Palestinians to ever really have an independent nation. They see the settlements rising in the hills around Palestinian cities — and the security buffers of empty land around them —as evidence that their chance for independence is fading. Additionally, they see the hundreds of checkpoints and roadblocks that the Israelis have created to thwart terror attacks on the settlements as restricting Palestinians' freedom of movement [source: BBC News].

In recent years, the conflict often has exploded into violence, including attacks on settlements by Palestinians, and settlers killing Palestinians and setting fire to their homes, cars and livestock.

The settlements have long been a major stumbling block in efforts to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. In the 1993 Oslo Accords, for example, the issue was such a thorny one that both sides agreed to put off dealing with it until later [source: BBC News].

Land swaps are one idea that's been discussed over the years for resolving the settlement debate. Israel would get to annex land near its borders where most of the settlers live, and in return would give up some of its pre-1967 territory to a Palestinian state [source: Makovsky]. But no one has been able to come up with a plan that both sides have seen as fair.

But the settlements are just one of numerous obstacles to forging a lasting peace agreement. The two sides also have to deal with thorny issues such as the status of Jerusalem, what happens to Palestinian refugees now living in other countries, and how to protect Israel's security and prevent terrorism. With that much on the table, and the long history of bad blood between the two sides, it's no surprise that a deal has been so difficult to achieve.