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Settlements Not an Obstacle to Peace? Get Serious.

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Today, Peace Now released a new report entitled "Torpedoing the Two State Solution -- The Strategy of the Netanyahu Government," detailing a number of trends in settlement expansion that directly, and it seems, deliberately, undermine the viability of the two-state solution.

This report stands in sharp contrast to the meme which appears to be gaining currency among defenders of the occupation status quo, arguing that settlements aren't really an issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, since they take up only a tiny fraction of the West Bank ( see Dore Gold in Slate and Evelyn Gordon in Commentary).

Peace Now's Hagit Ofran confirms: the built-up area of settlements comprises around 1 percent of the West Bank (not including East Jerusalem), but that doesn't mean that the meme-mongers are right.

Because that 1 percent doesn't even begin to tell the whole story.

Since 1967, Israel -- using various means -- has taken control of around 50 percent of the West Bank. Almost all of that land has been turned over to the settlers. The 1 percent of the West Bank on which the built-up areas of settlements are located is just the beginning. Because almost 10 percent of the West Bank is included in the "municipal area" of settlements. That is, the jurisdictional borders of settlements, as drawn by Israel, are so large as to allow settlements to expand many times over onto land that is in the meantime totally off-limits to Palestinians. In addition, almost 34 percent of the West Bank has been placed under the jurisdiction of the Settlement "Regional Councils." That is more than an additional one-third of the West Bank under the control of the settler and totally off-limits to Palestinians.

In this way, more than 40 percent of the West Bank is under the direct control of settlers/settlements and off-limits to Palestinians, irrespective of the fact that only a small portion of this land has been built on by settlers.

Moreover, more than 32 percent of the built-up area of settlements (and outposts) is on privately owned Palestinian land. This construction is on land that Israel has not been able to "legally" take control of since 1967. Under Israeli law, settler use of this land constitutes out-and-out theft -- theft that the Netanyahu government is currently working to legalize post-facto.

In addition, Israel has taken hundreds of kilometers of the West Bank to build roads that serve the settlements, connecting them to each other and to Israel. The negative impact of these roads is arguably more profound in terms of impeding normal life for the Palestinians than the settlements or the land seizures themselves. They crisscross the entire West Bank, dividing Palestinian cities and town from each other, and imposing various barriers to Palestinian movement and access, all for the benefit of the settlements.

The meaninglessness of focusing on the built-up area of settlements is self-evident in another simple reality: the "separation barrier" de facto annexes 9.5 percent of the West Bank to Israel, following a route that was manifestly guided not by security needs but to accommodate settlements and settlement expansion plans.This 9.5 percent is many times the built-up area of settlements -- underscoring the fact that Israeli territorial ambitions across the 1967 lines are not limited to the built-up areas of settlements. And even this 9.5 percent clearly doesn't begin to represent the extent of those ambitions, given that the barrier leaves the majority of settlements (built-up areas included) on the "wrong" side.

In addition, there is the issue of East Jerusalem. Since 1967, Israel has expropriated fully 35 percent of the land in East Jerusalem as "state land" and used it almost entirely for settlements. Such settlements (and new settlement construction going on today) has the explicit goal of preventing the establishment of a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem -- which, in effect, means preventing the two-state solution.

The facts matter when debating settlements, and advocates of settlement activity shouldn't be allowed to cherry-pick the facts to suit their agenda.

Yes, settlement construction takes up only a small part of the West Bank, but settlements control almost half of the West Bank's territory -- spread across the entire length and breadth of the West Bank, connected by dedicated infrastructure and bolstered throughout by the Israeli army. They have exclusive authority over almost half the land and form a network of control that makes normal Palestinian life and development virtually impossible throughout the approximately 90 percent of the West Bank on which settlements have not (yet) been physically built.

To understand this better, think about a prison. The area dedicated to guards in any prison is relatively tiny, compared to the areas dedicated to prisoners. But this has nothing to do with who controls the prison. What is important is the guards' ability to use their presence in strategic locations and their overwhelming authority to project control into the entirety of the area.

Finally, settler defenders who raise the 1 percent factoid are, ironically, overlooking the figure's real meaning: that despite decades of government investment and preferential support, the West Bank settlement enterprise has failed in every way, except as an effort to block peace. Looking at the numbers, one has to wonder how much different a position Israel would be in today -- economically, politically, diplomatically, and in terms of security -- if successive Israeli governments hadn't poured millions of shekels into this self-defeating enterprise. An enterprise they continue to subsidize today, even as it undeniably poses an existential threat to Israel's viability as a Jewish state and a democracy.