June 22, 2009
New York Times
There are about 120 official Israeli settlements in the occupied territories of the West Bank. In addition, there are “unofficial” settlements whose number is estimated variously from 80 to 100. Under international law, there is no difference between these two categories; both are contraventions of Article 47 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which explicitly prohibits the annexation of land consequent to the use of force, a principle re-stated in Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter.
The blatant cynicism of the present Israeli government should not blind us to the responsibility of its more respectable-looking predecessors. The settler population has grown consistently at a rate of 5 percent annually over the past two decades, three times the rate of increase of the Israeli population as a whole. Together with the Jewish population of East Jerusalem (itself illegally annexed to Israel), the settlers today number more than half a million people: just over 10 percent of the Jewish population of so-called Greater Israel. This is one reason why settlers count for so much in Israeli elections, where proportional representation gives undue political leverage to even the smallest constituency.
Thus the distinction so often made in Israeli pronouncements between “authorized” and “unauthorized” settlements is specious — all are illegal, whether or not they have been officially approved and whether or not their expansion has been “frozen” or continues apace. (It is a matter of note that Israel’s new foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, belongs to the West Bank settlement of Nokdim, established in 1982 and illegally expanded since.)