Settlements in Focus: Vol. 1, Issue 2 - "Ariel & the Ariel Bloc"

Ariel & the Ariel Bloc

When was Ariel established?

Ariel was established in 1978.

Where is Ariel and how big is it?

Ariel is located in the heart of the West Bank, running east-west along the top of a 3.1 mile-long ridge (1,805-2,231 feet above sea level). The settlement forms a long, narrow strip along the ridge; the western tip of the settlement (i.e., the part closest to Israel) is about 10 miles from the Green Line, and the eastern edge of the settlement is more than 13 miles from the Green Line. Ariel is located about 25 miles from Tel Aviv, 31 miles from Jerusalem, and about 18 miles from the Jordanian border.

What is the significance of Ariel's location?

Ariel's location is not an accident. On the one hand, it blocks Palestinian contiguity between the large Palestinian town of Salfit to the south and a group of Palestinian villages to the north, including Marda, Zaita, Jammai'n, and Hares - a strategy of "divide and rule" which has played a part in the location of settlements across the West Bank. In addition, at the time that it was built, Ariel was located on what was then one of the only major east-west roads in the northern West Bank, guaranteeing Israel control of what was viewed as a vital land route to the Jordan Valley and the Jordanian border. That original road has since been replaced by a modern highway (Route 5, discussed below), cementing Israel's control of this east-west axis.

Is Ariel a settlement or an Israeli city?

Ariel is located in the West Bank on land that has never been annexed to Israel - land that since 1967 has been under Israeli military law. Ariel is therefore a settlement. At the same time, due to its large size, Ariel is one of only four settlements classified by Israel as a "city." However, unlike the other large settlements, Ariel is located deep in the West Bank, in an area that few Israelis who are not settlers ever travel (other than those serving in the IDF). New infrastructure that seeks to seamlessly connect Ariel to Israel, as well as the recent Cabinet decision to recognize the college campus in Ariel as a university (both discussed below) are examples of efforts to bolster the public's perception of Ariel as an integral part of Israel that can never be given up (or will be incredibly painful to give up), rather than a settlement whose future is uncertain and subject to negotiations.

Is Ariel expanding?

Yes, Ariel is expanding. Hundreds of new housing units have been constructed in Ariel in the last few years, mostly located in the eastern tip of the settlement (i.e., the settlement is expanding deeper into the West Bank, rather than towards the Green Line). Since 1990 Ariel's population has more than doubled, mainly as a result of immigration to the country from the former Soviet Union.

Ariel's population (source: Israel Central Bureau of Statistics)

Year Population Year Population

1990 8000 1998 14,400
1991 9000 1999 15,100
1992 10,400 2000 15,600
1993 11,800 2001 16,000
1994 12,800 2002 16,300
1995 13,800 2003 16,053
1996 (not available) 2004 17,555
1997 14,300

What is the "Ariel bloc?"

The term "Ariel bloc" generally refers to an area of the West Bank delimited to the east by Ariel, to the north by the settlement of Kedumim, to the northwest by the settlements of Karnei Shomron and Ma'ale Shomron, and to the south by the settlements of Bet Arye and Ofarim. The resulting "bloc" includes numerous other settlements as well: Nofim, Yaqir, Immanuel, Peduel, Alei Zahav, Brukhin, Barkan, Kiryat Netafim, and Revava. In addition, the area includes at least 7 illegal outposts constructed mainly in the last few years.

It should be stressed that there is no exact geographic or legal definition of a "settlement bloc." Rather, the term is a practical way to describe the outcome of a longstanding Israeli policy of establishing settlements in roughly contiguous chains and later "thickening" the settlements with infrastructure and buildings to create large swaths of land in which the settlements, and the infrastructure connecting them, are the defining characteristic of the area.

However, unlike other settlements located in major settlement blocs - which are generally close to the Green Line - Ariel is located in the heart of the West Bank. It is for this reason that settlers have expended enormous resources (especially after the signing of the Oslo Accords) to connect Ariel with Israel and with other settlements in the area. Their goal has been to create a settlement bloc sufficiently large and sufficiently connected to Israel that settlements in it will be considered immune from ever being evacuated. At the same time, they have worked to connect this bloc to more far-flung settlements, in the hopes of immunizing these settlements from possible evacuation as well. In a May 2003 interview with Yedioth Ahronoth, settler leader Pinchas Wallerstein noted that an effort to join Ariel, which lies some distance off of Route 60 (the major north-south highway in the area, discussed below) with the group of settlements along Route 60, had recently been completed thanks to a new road connecting Route 60 to Ariel and the chain of new outposts built next to it. (The settlements along Route 60 are, at least for the time being, not included inside the planned barrier that will enclose the Ariel bloc, discussed below.)

Is Ariel and/or the Ariel bloc included on the Israeli side of the security barrier?

On February 20, 2005, the Israeli government approved a route for the security barrier that includes Ariel and the Ariel bloc (the map can be viewed at: The part of the barrier which is supposed to be constructed around the Ariel bloc is noted specially on the map's legend as: "Route Subject to Completion of Further Inter-Ministerial Examination." Peace Now suspects that this may indicate an effort by the government to gain time needed to "sell" the plan to the United States and the international community, recognizing that there is substantial opposition in the international community to Israel building this portion of the barrier. In the meantime, Israel is going ahead with building a fence partially surrounding Ariel that could be connected to the larger barrier in the future.

How big is the Ariel bloc?

The area which Israel is planning to encompass within the security barrier that includes Ariel and the Ariel bloc is 47 square miles and includes about 37,000 settlers.

How many Palestinians will be impacted by the security barrier around the bloc?

It is difficult to say exactly how many Palestinians will be impacted by the security barrier. Taking into account the various ways that the fabric of their lives will be affected - by loss of land, restrictions on movement and travel, etc. - the number is probably in the hundreds of thousands. Some Palestinians will find themselves living in areas actually surrounded by a barrier on all sides. Many will lose lands and other sources of livelihood. Many others will find that walking or driving is a problem, with normal daily travels - from their homes to their schools, jobs, fields, hospitals - restricted to impractical, excessively long and indirect routes.

What is the road situation in the area?

There are two primary roads in the area - Route 5 and Route 60. Israel has not permitted Palestinians to drive on either of these roads for most of the period since the outbreak of the Intifada, with roadblocks and checkpoints barring access from Palestinian areas. Moreover, the roads have been designed to serve the needs of the settlers; in many cases Palestinian areas do not have access ramps or road connections to them.

Route 5 ("The Trans Samaria Highway") runs east-west and extends to the Israeli coastline. Parts of this road are currently being upgraded, involving the investment of huge sums of Israeli government funds; soon the entire stretch between Ariel and the Green Line will be a four-lane highway. Route 5 effectively erases the Green Line in this area; traveling east from inside Israel on Route 5, there is hardly any indication at any point that the road has entered the West Bank, and since Palestinians are largely forbidden from using the road, there are no major checkpoints along the route until past Ariel (i.e., until you are more than 15 miles inside the West Bank).

Route 60 runs north-south, connecting Jerusalem in the south and Nablus (and the Nablus-area settlements) in the north. Ariel lies about 2.5 miles to the west of Route 60; during 2001 a new road was built in order to connect Ariel to Route 60.

Are there any important Jewish religious/historical sites in the area?

There are no important Jewish religious or historical sites in this area.

What are the main arguments for keeping Ariel as part of Israel?

From the perspective of Israel's security, including having defensible borders and peace with the Palestinians, it is difficult to make a strong argument for annexing Ariel to Israel. There are some who argue that it is vital to keep Ariel and surrounding areas in order to expand Israel's "narrow waist" and ensure that Israel has a land route to the Jordan Valley in case Israel needs to fight a land war to the east. This argument assumes that Israel's security is best assured by a maximalist position regarding territory, even at the expense of a potential peace agreement with the Palestinians and the security arrangements that would be part and parcel of any such agreement. This argument is viewed by many as a case of "the generals fighting the last war" - trying to create what would have been in 1948 or 1967 the best possible situation for Israel to fight those wars, rather than planning for Israel's current and future security needs based on the today's historical, political, geographic, and technological realities.

In the absence of compelling security rationale, the main argument heard in the Israeli political arena regarding Ariel is: "Ariel is part of the national consensus." This view argues, in effect, that Israel should keep Ariel because most Israelis want Israel to keep it, viewing it as too large and too much of an Israeli "city" to give up. Whether or not this is true, a critical Israeli policy decision like this should be based on national priorities and national security interests, including the political, strategic, and economic value of the territory; the economic costs of relocation; the costs of defending an artificially lengthy border and populated enclave; and the impact on peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Unilaterally determining that the issue is not open to negotiation, based on a supposed national consensus, is destructive to Israelis and Palestinians alike and is antithetical to the achievement of a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In the future, is it possible for the Palestinians to have a viable, contiguous state if Ariel, or the Ariel bloc, is annexed to Israel?

Given its location in the heart of the West Bank, and given its relationship to the main roads in the area, it is hard to see how including Ariel inside the barrier can avoid creating problems for Palestinian contiguity. Moreover, it is hard to see how including the Ariel bloc inside the barrier can avoid creating devastating problems, not only in terms of Palestinian contiguity, but in terms of the impact on the lives of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who live within and around the bloc. In the case where either was annexed to Israel, Palestinians could still, theoretically, travel around the area via roads (which would need to be built); other creative arrangements (tunnels, bridges) could be made for Palestinians trapped inside the barrier or within the bloc itself. However, the previous analysis of E-1 (Settlements in Focus - Vol. 1, Issue 1) applies here as well:

".either of these arrangements, which would involve enormous expense and damage to the landscape, would create only 'transportational connectivity'- distinct communities with no real connection except via roads. Such a situation is different from 'territorial contiguity,' which implies a continuous area in which Palestinian life - commerce, economy, education, health services, political activity, etc. - can function and flow normally, and hopefully flourish, as required for Israel's long-term security and regional stability.

"It is possible that, within the context of a negotiated agreement, some of these challenges could be surmounted via mutually agreed-upon mechanisms, including innovative transportation schemes and land-sharing or land-swap agreements. However, unilateral acts by Israel that would impose this reality on the Palestinians are antithetical to the development of a stable, viable Palestinian state, undermining the legitimacy of moderate, pro-peace Palestinian leaders and empowering radicals. President Bush has repeatedly expressed his concern regarding the need for territorial contiguity for a future Palestinian state, and has called on the Israeli government to freeze all settlement activities in the West Bank..."

How did Camp David and the Geneva Initiative deal with Ariel and the Ariel bloc?

According to then-Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami, the map he presented to the Palestinians and President Clinton at Camp David demanded the Ariel bloc remain a part of Israel. This was refused by the Palestinians, who argued that the settlement's intrusive geographical position made its inclusion inside Israel impossible. The Geneva Initiative leaves Ariel and the Ariel bloc in the area under Palestinian control, for this same reason. (The "Clinton Parameters," presented by President Clinton to Israeli and Palestinian negotiators at the White House on December 23, 2000, made no reference to Ariel or any settlements and included no maps; they did include a recommendation that that the parties should develop a map consistent with the following criteria: 80% of settlers in blocs; contiguity; minimize annexed areas; and minimize the number of Palestinians affected.)

Are Ariel residents secular or religious?

Most of Ariel residents are secular - a fact that is obvious to anyone who visits the settlement (during Christmas 2004, stores in the settlement's commercial center featured Christmas decorations and sold Santa Claus dolls - catering, most likely, to immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are either not Jewish or have adopted non-Jewish customs. In a more religious settlement such a population, let alone the sale of such merchandise, would not be tolerated). The results of the general elections support this impression; in 2003 the National Religious Party obtained 1.6% of Ariel's vote, and all religious parties combined (including NRP) obtained a total of only 5.5%. By comparison, Shinui (the fervently secular party) obtained 9.6%, Labor obtained 1.9%, and Likud obtained 53.3%.

Are Ariel residents motivated to live in the settlement for ideological reasons or for quality of life reasons?

While it is clear that the majority of Ariel's population is on the right of the political spectrum, it would be a mistake to affiliate the majority of the population with the hard-line right-wing ideology. As with most of the settlers in the West Bank, most of Ariel's residents moved there primarily due to economic incentives offered by the government; most remain there today because of the continuing economic benefits which are provided (and the higher standard of living they can afford, compared to living in Israel).

What is the economic situation in Ariel?

According the most recent information available from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, Ariel is defined as a "5" (out of 10) on Israel's socioeconomic scale, as compared with, for example, the upscale Tel Aviv suburb of Herziliya (an "8"), the large Arab town of Umm al-Fahm (a "2"), and Jerusalem (a "4").

What is the significance of the recent Israeli cabinet decision to recognize the College of Judea and Samaria (in Ariel) as a university?

The decision by the Israeli cabinet - in a party-line vote - to recognize the College of Judea and Samaria as a full-fledged university is a wholly political one. It reflects an effort of some members of the Israeli government to create additional "facts on the ground" and reinforce the argument that Ariel is part of a national consensus and therefore its future is not subject to negotiations with the Palestinians. It is also a pretext for funneling more money to settlements, since, as a result of this decision, the campus will be eligible for significantly more public funds. In addition, some have justified the decision as a response to Britain's Association of University (AUT) teachers adopting an academic boycott of against two Israeli universities (the AUT announced on May 26th that the boycott was being revoked, with the AUT secretary general stating: "It is now time to build bridges between those with opposing views here in the UK and to commit to supporting trade unionists in Israel and Palestine working for peace.")

Produced by Dror Etkes, Settlements Watch Director, Peace Now (Israel) & Lara Friedman, Government Relations Director, Americans for Peace Now