They Say/We Say: "Why shouldn't settlement construction be able to continue within the existing borders of settlements? Construction inside settlements is not expansion."

They Say We Say We know that pro-Israel does not mean blindly supporting policies that are irrational, reckless, and counter-productive. Pro-Israel means supporting policies that are consistent with Israel's interests and promote its survival as a Jewish, democratic state.

You've heard the arguments of the religious and political right-wing, and so have we. They've had their say. Now, we'll have ours.

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They Say, We Say: Are settlements really a problem?

They Say: "Why shouldn't settlement construction be able to continue within the existing borders of settlements? Construction inside settlements is not expansion."
We Say: Experience has taught past Middle East peace negotiators and past U.S. presidents that trying to limit settlement construction to areas within the settlements’ “current borders” (in the past referred to as “building up but not out”) is a trap. When it comes to defining “the current borders” of settlements, the devil is in the details – or more precisely, it is in the ambiguity around the word “borders,” a term that has proven exceptionally flexible in the eyes of the settlers and the Israeli government. To think about this more concretely:
  • Place your hand on a hard surface, splay your fingers wide apart, and take a pen and trace your handprint. Your handprint represents the built-up area or built-up borders of a settlement.
  • Draw another line connecting your fingers and your thumb. This line represents the land the settlers will argue is within the built-up borders of the settlement, even if it has no buildings on it yet.
  • Draw a circle around the handprint, leaving a space between this new line and the handprint inside. This line represents the security fence surrounding the settlement, which the settlers will argue is another border of the settlement, representing the actual “footprint" of the settlement on the ground, since this area is wholly under the settlement's control.
  • Draw another much larger circle around the previous circle. This line represents the municipal borders of the settlement, which the settlers might argue is legally and officially part of the settlement, even if they have not built on it yet.

 With settlers and their supporters in the Israeli government looking for any opening to expand settlements, which line is the “border” within which settlers may build? It is this ambiguity that has led past US administrations into the trap of endless and irresolvable negotiations/debates over what it even means to build “within the borders” of settlements. And to be clear, this is not a debate over semantics.

  • Many settlements have far-flung “neighborhoods” that, if used as the basis for defining the “borders” of the settlement would permit massive expansion.
  • Most settlements have security fences surrounding them, meaning that this larger area of land is already off-limits to Palestinians.
  • Nearly all settlements have a municipal area many times the size of the built-up area of the settlement – indeed, while the built-up area of settlements takes up less than 2% of the West Bank, nearly 10% of the West Bank is included within the officially declared municipal boundaries of these settlements. Permitting expansion inside these areas would allow settlements to grow many times over.