Since Israel occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights during the Six Day War of 1967 they have been building settlements for Jewish settlers in this region. There were also new towns in Gaza but Israel called all settlers back in 2005. Although the peace accord signed with the PLO in Oslo prohibited the building of new settlements the Israeli government is continuing to grant their construction.
The international community regards these settlements as illegal and the United Nations has repeatedly condemned the Jewish state for building them. The Jewish settlements in the occupied territories are one reason why peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are at a standstill. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations argue that constructing settlements on the Palestinian territory is a violation of human rights.
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More than 700,000 Israelis – about 10% of the total population – live in 150 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Some of the settlements are recently built small cities with their own infrastructure, urban services and transportation; others have been built in the suburbs of big cities like Hebron. In 2023 the Israeli government authorized the construction of nine new settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Settlers have largely come to the region for economic reasons. Israel’s government offers certain bonuses to people who are willing to settle there. Goods produced in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are subsidized by the government. Tax cuts and other economic incentives motivate Israelis to move to the occupied territories. On the other side there are religious fanatics who believe they are returning to their biblical homeland. They regard Arabs as aliens in their country.
Many settlements are built on the best farming land. Palestinians accuse Israelis of consuming too much water and leaving them only little. Reports of violence on the side of settlers who lash out at Palestinians are not uncommon.
The future of the Jewish settlements is only one issue that needs to be resolved in order to achieve a lasting peace agreement in the Middle East. Other issues are the future of Jerusalem and the borders between Israel and a new Palestinian state.