Israeli settlements: Where, when, and why they're built
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US envoy George Mitchell failed to agree on a settlement freeze Tuesday, saying they would meet again Wednesday.
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The main focus is on settlements in the West Bank, where Israeli pockets give the mainly Palestinian territory a Swiss-cheese look (see map). Palestinians and their supporters describe settlements as "facts on the ground" that will force the hand of future negotiators determining the borders of a Palestinian state.Skip to next paragraph
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How many are there?
From 30 in the early 1970s, West Bank settlements now number 121, and the settler population there this year surpassed 300,000. An additional 17,000 Israelis live in the Golan Heights and 193,000 in East Jerusalem, where Palestinians hope to establish the capital of their future state. (Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1980 and thus does not consider citizens there settlers, but most international and human rights organizations do.)
Formerly, 8,000 settlers lived in the Gaza Strip, but they were evacuated in 2005 under former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan. According to figures from Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics and the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP) in Washington, the settler population in the West Bank and Gaza has increased three times faster, on average, than the population within Israel proper since the 1993 Oslo peace accords were signed. Last year, the growth rate was 4.9 percent in the West Bank compared with 1.8 percent in Israel.
Who lives there?
After the 1967 war, Israeli governments – left and right – promoted settlements as a strategy to strengthen Israel's defense and protect it from further attacks from neighboring Arab countries. Proponents encouraged Israelis to go to the fledgling communities as "pioneers."
Most eager were national-religious activists known as "Gush Emunim" or Bloc of the Faithful. These settlers believed that Israel's success in the 1967 war was a sign of messianic redemption, and today they view the settler movement as an irreversible return of the Jewish people to their biblical homeland.
But while many have moved for patriotic or religious reasons, other settlers seek a different lifestyle – wanting to live in a small, semirural community, or in the desert. Some are also motivated by financial considerations. For example, a 968-square-foot apartment in Jerusalem's upper-middle-class Arnona neighborhood is advertised at $385,000, while a 1076-square-foot apartment in the burgeoning settlement of Maale Adumim just a 10-minute drive away can be bought for $186,000. While most government incentives for settlers, such as grants and tax breaks, were eliminated under Mr. Sharon, Israelis can often still obtain more advantageous mortgages for homes in settlements.