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Richard Greener Headshot

Israeli Settlements: What Are They, Really?

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As citizens of the United States, whose government provides essential support to the State of Israel and also supports a two-state settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we must ask ourselves this important question: If we were Palestinians could we start our own nation in 2010 while 500,000 citizens of another country occupy our land and could we agree to watch helplessly as they grow in number to almost two million before the year 2050?

Americans know that the issue of Israeli settlements is an obstacle in the way of Middle East peace. But do we properly comprehend what Israeli settlements really are?

We must begin with Article 49 of the Geneva Convention. Israel is a signatory to this international agreement. So is the United States. Contrary to recent US Executive branch behavior, the Geneva Accords do carry the full weight of international law. Article 49 is simple, clear and is not a subject of controversy. It forbids an occupying power from moving its own civilian population onto occupied lands as permanent residents. Despite this prohibition Israel has constructed settlements outside and beyond its borders for more than 40 years.

Official Israeli figures show that 304,569 Israeli Jews now live on the West Bank in housing built on land that is not part of the State of Israel. That is the definition of a settlement. Those three hundred thousand settlers do not live in Israel yet they continue to call themselves Israelis and the State of Israel treats them as full citizens. The land on which these housing units have been built was forcibly conquered, taken by the armed forces of the State of Israel. Another 190,000 Israeli Jews live in East Jerusalem - in the Arab section of that city. These settlers also live in housing that was forcibly constructed after the military of the State of Israel removed Arabs already living there. These Israeli settlements in Jerusalem bring the total of Israeli settlers living outside the borders of their country to almost 500,000. There are about 2.5 million Palestinians living on the West Bank and in Jerusalem.

As a point of reference, the half a million West Bank Israeli settlers use more water and own more guns than all of the Palestinians combined.

Israel counts among its citizens 5,593,000 Israeli Jews. This means that about 8.84% of all Israeli Jews now live on land that does not belong to them or to their country. How can we as Americans relate to this sort of national policy and this number of settlers? What if we were doing something similar?

The US Census currently estimates there are 304,059,724 people living in the United States. Imagine, if you can, that 8.84% of us, or 26,878,900 citizens of the United States, decided to move and go live in housing projects built in Canada, on Canadian land seized by US military forces, against the wishes of the Canadians. Then imagine the US government taking the position that all or nearly all of those 27 million settlers should remain in Canada - forever - not as new Canadians, never to become citizens of Canada - but as citizens of the United States. How would you feel about that? And how would you feel if you were a Canadian?

Some enlightened Israeli leaders, and their Americans supporters as well, say they are against any new settlements. They oppose expansion. They draw a line - no more settlers moving onto lands that don't belong to Israel. That's a start. However, there seems to be no opposition to something called "natural growth."

Think about that for a moment, about what is called "natural growth." Human populations are not constant. People die. New people are born. In Israel proper the growth rate is currently 1.8% per year. But, in the settlements the population is younger and openly determined to increase their strength of numbers. For them the birth rate is a political and religious issue. Population growth in the settlements is much higher than in Israel itself. In fact, it is an astounding 5.7%. By comparison, the Palestinian growth rate, among the world's highest, is only 3.4%.

With a natural growth rate of 5.7% that means by next year, 2011, there will be almost 30,000 more Israeli Jews added to the settler population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem - all without a single new settler moving in.

A rate of 5.7% is not uncommon for a mortgage in many places in the United States. Those Americans with such a mortgage already know that means the actual amount they will end up paying for their home will be about 3 to 4 times the original loan amount over 20 or 30 years.

If you are a Palestinian, the math and the impediment to any two-state solution is inescapable. If a Palestinian State is established today, and if not a single Israeli Jew ever moves into this new state - but those settlers who are already there are allowed to remain - there would be almost two million Israelis - all Jews, no Arabs - all citizens of Israel not citizens of a Palestinian State - all living in this Palestinian State - and all this in less than a generation.

Frightening as it may be to imagine 27 million US citizens living in Canada today, how scary is it to think of more than 80 million of them in 30 years?

That is the unavoidable, mathematical consequence of "natural growth" for Israeli settlements.

The conclusion seems simple enough. There can never be a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem so long as any Israeli civilian population continues to occupy the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The answer must be to let Israel be Israel; let Israel be safe and secure. But also let Palestine not be Israel too.