The Israeli/Palestinian Conflict: The Evidence

  evidence-based reports | authored and compiled by
constantine kaniklidis
scholars for peace in the middle east (spme) | director, progressive voices for peace in the middle east


Settlements as Obstacles? How Large are the Israeli West Bank Settlements?

The claim by BDS and other anti-peace rejectionist players that settlement building in the West Bank by Israel is consuming or expropriating substantial and increasingly larger proportions of land is unsustainable. Israel has had in place since 2003 arrangements (negotiated agreement executed by Elliot Abrams & National Security Council with Israel, Bush administration) that no new West Bank settlements can be built and that existing settlements cannot expand territorially, with construction in them allowed only in built up areas, assuring (1) no construction beyond existing construction line, (2) no expropriation of land for such construction, (3) no special inducements / economic incentives, (4) no new settlement construction.

Although some settler groups have constructed "outposts" in violation of Israeli law, the Israeli government has not constructed any new West Bank settlements since 1998, as demonstrated by the comprehensive list of settlements and construction dates compiled by Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP), a leading critic of settlement policy. FMEP publishes the bimonthly authoritative Report on Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Territories containing detailed analysis, data and maps on settlements. Their chart of Settlements in the West Bank:

confirms the absence of new government-sanctioned settlements after 1998, numbers cross-confirmed by other authoritative research from non-partisan sources (below).  As of this writing (4th Q, 2016), the proportion of the West Bank comprising Jewish settled towns ranges from 1.1% to no more than 1.7%, under the best estimates: 1.1% (as per senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in 2011 based on aerial photography), 1.36% (Peace Now), 1.7% (B’Tselem), these levels suggesting the lack of probity to the  claim that these legitimately settled areas represent a sufficiently serious impediment as to make any future Palestinian State "untenable" (see our fuller discussion of this second issue, below). And it should also be noted that 40% of the West Bank is host to 98% of the entire Palestinian population residing in the West Bank, the remaining 60% being known as “Area C” under Israeli administration as per the Oslo Accords, and virtually unpopulated / vacant, with just the 2% of the remaining Palestinian West Bank population resident there.

The Issue of "Outposts"
Much heat - and often little substance - has been generated over the "outposts", ignoring several facts and realities: it is a matter of undisputed record that no new Jewish community has been authorized by the Israeli government in the West Bank since the establishment of the Oslo Accords in 1993, and furthermore the proposed legitimization of some outposts - hinging around 98 homes in the Shiloh Valley - founded on the recommendations of the Commission established in 2012 headed by former Israeli Supreme Court justice Edmund Levy, controversial as this pending legislation has become, have not to this date, nor will going forward, displace any Palestinian, as the outposts were erected on empty hilltops, with no "injured party": no one has been harmed by their, and it must also be remembered in this connection that these vacant areas were and are not “private Palestinian land" and no individual Palestinians have come forward to claim the lands, with in most cases no property claimants having asserted their interests for decades after the outpost houses were built.

These issues in turn must be weighed within the broader context of the claim of Israeli occupation of the Disputed Territories Gaza and the West Bank - with no serious concern impinging on Gaza which has not been "occupied" since 2005 (except by the  terrorist Hamas organization) -  when Israel withdrew all military and administrative control and forces. The claim of occupation via Israeli "settlements" in the putative "occupied territory" is argued to entail censure under claimed colorable violation of international law, specifically Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 (the "transfer of population" clause).

Settlements, Occupation and International Law: The Facts
But we note these claims are unsustainable: consider these current real-world and ongoing settlement population-transfer cases:

-  Morocco’s occupation since 1975 of Western Sahara (SADR).
-  Armenia’s occupation since 1994 of Nagorno-Karabakh and other parts of Azerbaijan.
Turkey’s occupation since 1974 of northern Cyprus.
-  Russia’s occupation since 2008 of the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions of Georgia.
-  Russia’s occupation since 2014 of the Crimea region of the Ukraine.
-  China’s ongoing occupation since 1951 of Tibet.

And in the past:
-  Indonesia’s occupation from 1975-1999 of East Timor
-  Vietnam’s occupation from 1978-1991 of Cambodia.

Occupier Occupied Facts
Morocco Western Sahara (SADR)
  • Belligerent occupation (1975)
  • Hundreds of thousands of Moroccan settlers transported and implanted into SADR against will of  native Sahrawis
  • Official settlement and native population displacement public policy known as "Moroccanization"
  • Settlers now  in substantial majority
  • Constitutes Article 49(6) violations of Fourth Geneva Convention (FGC) of 1949
Armenia Nagorno-Karabakh (Azerbaijan)
  • Belligerent occupation (1994)
  • Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding region (16% of Azerbaijan) remains Armenian-occupied territory after extensive settlement and displacement policy
  • Karabakh now almost completely an ethnic  Armenian population
  • a million Azeris fleeing, now refugees
  • Constitutes Article 49(6) violations of Fourth Geneva Convention (FGC) of 1949
Turkey Northern Cyprus
  • Belligerent occupation (1974)
  • Military invasion, illegal declaration of territory as a Federated Turkish State with no recognition by any international authority and deemed an illegal occupation by the EU
  • Mass influx of and ongoing waves of Turkish settlers, now in majority, under ongoing occupation
  • Mass displacements of native Greek residents
  • Constitutes Article 49(6) violations of Fourth Geneva Convention (FGC) of 1949
Russia Abkhazia, South Ossetia (Georgia)
  • Belligerent occupation & annexation (2008)
  • State-sponsored settlement program to change demographic composition of territories
  • Population displacement of native Georgians by ethnic Abkhazian settlers
  • Full Russian military and civilian control
  • Constitutes Article 49(6) violations of Fourth Geneva Convention (FGC) of 1949
Russia Crimea (Ukraine)
  • Belligerent occupation & annexation (2014)
  • State-sponsored mass expulsion of large proportions of the native non-Russian population
  • Large-scale human rights abuses against Ukrainians (and Tartars)
  • Constitutes Article 49(6) violations of Fourth Geneva Convention (FGC) of 1949
Syria Lebanon
  • Belligerent occupation (1976)
  • State-sponsored settlement
  • Displacement of native Lebanese by Syrian settlers
  • Constitutes Article 49(6) violations of Fourth Geneva Convention (FGC) of 1949

Yet in none of these cases has the country concerned ever been formally described in any U.N. body's resolutions as an “Occupying Power”, and in violation of FGC (Fourth Geneva Convention) Art. 49(6), except for Israel (labeled prejudicially as such 530 times in UNGA (UN General Assembly) resolutions, compared to zero for any other nation - the term of "Occupier" or "Occupying Power" never used in relation to any of these other countries with settlers in occupied territory), and despite the fact that in all of these cases, settlement activity not only has taken place, but often on a far larger scale than that presenting in the Israel/Palestinian case, and involving “far-reaching demographic and economic consequences for the occupied population" [Kontorovich, E. Unsettled: A Global Study of Settlements in Occupied Territories. Northwestern University School of Law. Public Law and Legal Theory Series. No. 16-20. 2016. Available from SSRN (Social Studies Research Network], thus evidencing not only a obsession, but also consistent and blind, or knowing, prejudicial animus towards Israel.

The Occupation as Causal of Global Antisemitism: The Case Against
These facts also put the lie to the claim that it is Israel's occupation of claimed "Palestinian territories" that underlies and explains the virulent level of antisemitic sentiment throughout the world, and the hatred directed at Jews globally (a claim made recently and outrageously in the pages of the New York Times by Roderick Balfour, descendent of  Lord Arthur James Balfour Balfour of Balfour Declaration fame). Let's ask ourselves:

Do we witness comparable significant hatred and prejudice against Moroccans for Morocco's  occupation and settlement of Western Sahara? Or against Armenians for Armenia's occupation and settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan? Or against Turks for Turkey's occupation and settlement of Northern Cyprus? Or against Russians for Russia's occupation and settlement of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia and the Crimea in Ukraine? Or. again, do we witness hatred and prejudice against Chinese for China's punishing
occupation and settlement of Tibet?

We witness none of these, and the world has not turned its hatred and prejudice against Moroccans, Armenians, Turks, Russians, and Chinese based on the  manifest occupation and settlement activities of  their respective nations, nor would anyone of even minimal human decency take seriously a bigot's justification of their hatred and bias against Chinese, say, as warranted because of China's seizure, occupation and settlement of Tibet for almost seventy years ("look what they did and are doing to the Tibetans!"), nor against Moroccans because of Morocco's seizure, occupation and settlement of Western Sahara for over forty years ("Look what they did and are doing to the Sahrawis!" (people of Western Sahara)). The claim therefore that it is Israel's putative "occupation" that engenders, explains and warrants the virulent antisemitism directed at Jews throughout the world can be seen to be errant nonsense, a cynical and  morally repugnant cover and societal disguise for hatred of Jews, otherwise  we would see in parity  the same bigotry against the other peoples (Moroccans, Armenians, Turks, Russians, and Chinese), of  egregious and ongoing "Occupying Powers". We see no such thing. Old wine (Jew hatred) in new bottles (anti-Israel prejudice and anti-Zionism).

Settlements Make a Palestinian State "Untenable": The Case Against
But a second related charge needs to be addressed, that even without material expansion, the proportion of Israeli settlement land may nonetheless be seen to disallow the “viability” of a Palestinian State. The legitimacy of this claim in turn hinges on how much of the West Bank is dedicated to settlements.  

There is robust data to strongly support the fact that at most this stands at 2%, likely even less. The Israeli NGO B'tselem, itself extremely critical of Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank, commissioned a detailed survey of the West Bank to determine the degree of settlement activity and control, publishing their highly critical findings in the report By Hook and By Crook: Israeli Settlement Policy in the West Bank (2010). The report conceded that the commissioned survey found the "built-up area" of settlements to constitute roughly 1% (0.99%, precisely) of the West Bank land. And although B'tselem misleadingly chose to focus publicity on the claim that municipal and regional councils associated with the settlements had theoretical legal jurisdiction over 42% of the West Bank (which illegitimately includes roads and adjacent areas, land between settlements and between settlements and roads, essentially unpopulated), an oft-quoted misrepresentation, the 42% figure in fact representing municipal jurisdiction, to wit, zoning, planning, and responsibility for local road maintenance, not actual land occupied by Israeli settlements, and municipal jurisdiction is over mostly empty land that can become part of a future Palestinian state at any time as part of just settlement and negotiation.

This was cross-confirmed by Peace Now, as well as by the self-admittedly critical-of-Israel BBC. The BBC published a detailed "Israelis and Palestinians in Depth" investigative report with an accompanying map series, concluding that "Since 1967 . . . settlements on the West Bank . . . cover about 2% of the area of the West Bank". The 1 - 2% maximum figure has in turn been confirmed explicitly by several Palestinians authorities. In an interview last year, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat confirmed [Radio al-Shams, Interview with S. Erekat. 3 Nov 2011; in Arabic] that the settlements constituted approximately 1.1% of the West Bank, with data to the same effect from EU-supplied aerial photographs provided to Erekat, further acknowledging that "the exact percentage of the built-up area is insignificant". And PA President Mahmoud Abbas added additional confirmation in interview, stating "The built-up area of all the settlements was 1.1 percent" [Interview with Prof. Bernard Avishai. NY Times, 7 Feb 2011]. Yet again, despite propaganda to the contrary, even the PLO has long acknowledged these facts [PLO Negotiations Primer. Negotiations Affairs Department. PDF], as have the Arabic editions of Palestinian newspapers Al-Quds, the Hamas newspaper Falasteen and a dozen others (the facts are in the Arabic editions; the English editions are willful propaganda machines, reserved for the gullible “tourists”).  

► font color="teal">The Lessons

This should put into new and critical perspective the oft-cited misrepresentation that the settlements are intrinsic and indisputable proof of Israeli ill-will and its culpability in the perpetuation of the Conflict.

Peace will not come to the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict while mythic national narratives like these surrounding the settlements continue unchallenged.

evidence-based reports: our reporting

Imperative in this context is a new equity in geopolitics that eschews disproportionate approbation of one actor to the exclusion of all others while also acknowledging the competitive narratives of national ambition and identity in the Middle East, with the need for new engagement and negotiation. 

This misplaced and uncritical reliance on ideological and prejudicial sources has evolved to be a formidable obstacle to peace in the Middle East. It has led to what others have termed a new “soft powerlessness” for Israel whose legitimacy has been successively eroded and who stands accused and convicted in the international arena. And it helps account for the current moribund state of peace negotiation. We therefore realized that what is needed to overcome these barriers to peace is effective confrontation through the exposure and refutation of lawfare as practiced by anti-peace NGOs and obstructionist initiatives like BDS. This will in turn require a new rational and equitable discourse in addressing the clash of competitive nationalist aspirations for self-determination in the same land, in order to achieve a fair and durable peace in the Middle East for Israel, and for the Palestinians.

To that end, I as Director of Progressive Voices for Peace in the Middle East (PVPME) and a member of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), have authored and compiled a series of evidence-based reports (EBRs) on the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict which are founded on an objective critical systemic review of the core issues and a critical appraisal of the relevant arguments, sustained by scrupulous attention to and respect for principles of international and human rights law.  This demands (1) systematic review of all credible sources on an issue, (2) critical appraisal of all sources extracted for factual basis, (3) cross-confirmation of accuracy wherever viable, and (4) use of the highest caliber of sources available, with preference to peer-reviewed literature.

These evidence-based reports hone to the principles of the evidence-based paradigm and methodology as it has evolved from initial domain of application (medicine) into a broad spectrum of evidence-based practice and research, in the form of evidence-based sociology, evidence-based education and evidence-based teaching, evidence-based psychology, evidence-based crime policy / policing, evidence-based  decision making /policy, evidence-based social work, among many others. We  also commit to industry-standards promulgated by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) in their SPJ Code of Ethics, and also those of the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN) in their 5 Principles of Ethical Journalism, as well as the principles articulated in The Poynter Institute's The New Ethics of Journalism: A Guide for the 21st Century.    

progressive voices for peace (PVPME)

Progressive Voices for Peace in the Middle East (PVPME), a Brooklyn based initiative, grew out of the recognition that these next-generation obstacles to peace require effective confrontation through counter-lawfare initiatives and the need for a new rational and equitable discourse in addressing the clash of competitive nationalist aspirations for self-determination in the same land.

Director, Constantine Kaniklidis

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Constantine Kaniklidis | Progressive Voices for Peace in the Middle East | 2018.  All rights reserved.