Speaking at Washington’s Center for American Progress, Prime Minister Netanyahu was asked about his government’s West Bank settlement construction policies. His replies were littered with falsehoods and misrepresentations.
Here are the facts:
- No new settlements – Netanyahu said that in the past 20 years, Israeli governments have not established any new settlements. That is a falsehood. A Peace Now, March 2015, report points out that under Prime Minister Netanyahu’s rule, since 2011 alone, twenty new settlements were established. Three of them, Bruchin, Sansana, and Rechelim are full-fledged new settlements, approved by the government. The three started out as illegal outposts (established by settlers without government approval), and were later, in April 2014, legalized by the Netanyahu government. Other new settlements are either illegal outposts that are in the process of being legalized (i.e. the government announced its intention to legalize them) or are considered new satellite “neighborhoods” of existing settlements. Some of these “neighborhoods” are very far from the built-up footprint of existing settlements. There are about 100 illegal outposts in the West Bank. In March 2011, Netanyahu’s government announced a policy that prioritizes efforts to legalize existing illegal outposts rather than removing them. For more about the government policy of turning illegal outposts into settlements see this Yesh Din report.
- The settlements’ footprint – Netanyahu claimed that the settlements make up a tiny amount of built-up land. “If you look over time, it is maybe a fraction, maybe one tenth of one percent.” False. Although the built-up area of the settlements is “only” about 1% of the West Bank’s land, this factoid is meaningless and misleading. Settlements take up much more than their built-up footprint. If you add up the settlements jurisdiction zones, which are off limits to Palestinians, settlements take up some 36% of the West Bank. If you add roads leading to settlements and security buffers around them, as well as land isolated by Israel’s security barrier, in which Palestinian construction is not allowed, as well as nature reserves and IDF firing zones (“closed military zones”), more than 40% of the West Bank is off limits to Palestinians, according to a report by Israel’s B’Tselem, based on official Israeli data.
- Volume of settlement construction on Bibi’s watch – Netanyahu said that his government built less in West Bank settlements than past governments. That is not true. As APN and Peace Now pointed out in a recent Haaretz article, Netanyahu has actually built more in settlements than any of his recent predecessors, except for Ehud Barak in 2000. Under his watch, settlement planning and construction in East Jerusalem has mushroomed, including in strategic locations such as Givat Hamatos, which severely threaten the contiguity and viability of a future Palestinian state. Under Netanyahu, not only did settlement construction accelerate. So did settlement planning and zoning.
- Settlements as an obstacle to peace – Netanyahu raised several arguments (including noting that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict existed even before settlements were established) to suggest that West Bank settlements to not constitute an obstacle to peace. This is, of course, bogus. By any objective standard, Israeli settlements in the West Bank, illegal under international law, constitute one of the most severe obstacles to achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Each new settlement and settler is another challenge to the possibility of returning to the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps. The settlements also prevent a future Palestinian state from being viable and contiguous, with settlements such as Ariel and Har Homa cutting off and isolating Palestinian population centers from each other. More than 40 percent of the West Bank is under the control of Israeli settlers, and more than 32 percent of the built-up area of settlements and outposts (illegal under Israeli law) are on private Palestinian land. Meanwhile, settlements in East Jerusalem make the task of resolving the core issue of Jerusalem's sovereignty that much more difficult. An oft-used metaphor to describe the problem: imagine two sides negotiating over a pizza while one side continues to nibble at it.
- Attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians – Netanyahu said they are "uncommon," and claimed that it is "not true" that the perpetrators typically escape prosecution. Unfortunately, Netanyahu’s statement is wrong. The Israeli media has reported on more than 200 "price tag" attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians and Palestinian-owned property (and occasionally against the IDF) since 2011. APN keeps a log of these reports. Many attacks, if not most, go unreported. It has been well-documented that only 1.9 percent of such cases have resulted in prosecution, and only 7.4 percent of investigations have resulted in indictments.