Israels settlement programme in the Occupied Territories has been designed to ensure permanent Israeli control over large areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and has been pursued with the express goal of preventing the emergence of an independent Palestinian state. The settler population in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, today numbers 350,500.
As a negotiating partner, Israel has acted in bad faith. It has carried out massive land confiscation and construction campaigns in the Occupied Territories, despite the signing of peace agreements, in order to create facts on the ground in advance of negotiations towards a final peace settlement. The four years of the Labour government saw a 39 percent increase in the settler population. The present government, headed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, is responsible for putting almost 19,000 residential units in the bureaucratic pipeline or on the market for sale. After just one year of power, the Netanyahu government has thus already taken measures which could see the increase of the settler population by approximately 95,000 settlers. The Israeli government continues to actively encourage the migration of the Israeli population across the Green Line through subsidies and other financial incentives.
Land confiscation, settlement expansion, and the violent activities of settlers who act against the Palestinian people with virtual impunity contribute to the escalation of tension in the region.
The settlement programme of the Israeli government violates international law, which, inter alia, prohibits an occupying power from transferring its civilian population into the territory it occupies and from creating any permanent change in an occupied territory not intended for the benefit of the occupied population. The building and expansion of settlements also violates agreements the Israeli government has signed with the PLO, which state that neither side shall take any action which may prejudice the final status negotiations between the parties.
In the Gaza Strip, confiscation of land from its Palestinian owners has further contributed to the problem of overcrowding in the Strip, impoverished farmers deprived of their main source of income, and removed valuable agricultural land from the productive sector of an already weak Palestinian economy.
Gaza settlements exploit their grossly disproportionate share of the Strips scarce land and water resources for the production of fruits, vegetables, and flowers for export; these products comprise a significant market share of Israels foreign trade. Agricultural products from Gaza are labelled as a product of Israel when exported, and no indication is given to consumers abroad that agricultural products have been grown in Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories.
Gaza settlements have grown at an extremely rapid rate in recent years, with the total settler population in Gaza increasing by 55 percent from 1992 to 1995, the most recent date for which official statistics are available. Efforts to expand continue: Israeli authorities have widened the borders of Morag settlement and have backed up with military force the unauthorised efforts of a Kfar Yam settler to expand that settlement. Families continue to move into the extremely controversial settlement of Netzarim, which due to the isolated location of the settlement in the midst of Palestinian population centres, can only be accomplished through full co-ordination with the IDF.
Within the last six months, the Gaza Strips hotel and tourist resort known as the Palm Beach has become a member of the American Days Inn hotel chain. The opening of a Days Inn franchise in Gazas Gush Katif settlements supports the existence of these settlements, which are illegal under international law, and sets a dangerous precedent.
Violent clashes between settlers, Israeli soldiers, and Palestinians are a regular occurrence in the Gaza Strip despite Israeli redeployment. Settlers participated in shooting at unarmed Palestinian demonstrators during the clashes of September 1996 at both Kfar Darom and at Erez. The fact that almost all of the September 1996 demonstrations in the Gaza Strip took place at Israeli settlements, or at the junctions leading to these settlements, demonstrated the depth of Palestinian opposition to the presence of these settlements on occupied Palestinian land.
The Oslo Accords, which guaranteed that not a single Israeli settlement would be evacuated in the interim period and provided for the creation of settlement blocs in the Occupied Territories, solidified the presence of the settlements of the Gaza Strip. The Gaza settlements and the land Israel continues to occupy to ensure the security of these settlements amounts to 42 percent of the land in the Strip following Israeli redeployment in 1994. It is clear that Israel intends to retain control of Gazas settlement blocs within the context of a final peace settlement.
Settlements do not contribute to the creation of an environment of mutual respect and understanding between Israel and the Palestinians necessary for the establishment of a just and lasting peace. The continued building and expansion of settlements, particularly in light of the ongoing negotiations between the parties, severely compromises the right of Palestinian people to self-determination and independence, as well as Palestinian faith in the peace process and in the seriousness of the Israeli governments desire for peace.