The settlement issue has been at the top of the public agenda for the past several months, with the Israeli political scene abuzz in the face of talks between the Israeli government and envoys of U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration on a “freeze” of construction work in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. At the same time, Knesset members have been touring West Bank outposts and settlements, and commenting about the legality or illegality of the places they visit.
In view of the intense discussion underway, both locally and internationally, it is important to remember that the question of a settlement’s “legality” is not merely a fluid technicality that can be resolved with a stroke of the pen. For one, according to international law all settlements and outposts in the West Bank are illegal. But even Israeli law, in its most basic understanding, prohibits some of the actions that are taken to “legalize” these communities. The seizure of Palestinian lands is a crucial issue, one that reflects poorly on Israel’s claims to be a state that operates according to the rule of law, respects individual rights and protects the weak from violent exploitation.
Since the very beginning of the settlement enterprise, more than four decades ago, Israel has seized West Bank lands via an orchestrated, systematic and violent system. The victims of this process lose their agricultural fields, and thus their ability to lead a normal life. Their source of income is impaired, often leading to the spread of poverty and hardship.