Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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How Many Israelis Live in “Settlements?”

by Elliott Abrams
July 29, 2013


This may seem to be a simple question, but efforts to answer it show that it is actually complex. For one thing, what’s a “settlement?” What are the “major blocks?” How many Israelis live in the major blocks and how many in smaller settlements beyond the security fence? Are those settlements growing?

I tried to answer those questions in an article entitled “The Unsettled Question,” published today in Foreign Policy. Oddly enough, both the settler movement and the Palestinian Authority have often exaggerated the numbers–for different and indeed opposite reasons. The article is an effort to find the facts upon which policy arguments should be based.

The bottom line: settlements beyond the security fence are indeed growing in population, and considerably faster than Israel’s population. In the years I examined (with Uri Sadot, the co-author), Israel’s population grew about 6 percent but these settlements grew about 17 percent, if the data we used–based on electoral rolls–is accurate. Roughly 80,000 Israelis appear to live now in settlements in the West Bank that are not typically viewed as areas Israel would keep under the terms of the most likely final status agreements. Whether it is in Israel’s interest for that number to grow is, of course, a hotly debated policy matter. As we state in the article, “If the guiding Israeli principle remains a two-state solution, partition of the West Bank, and separation from the Palestinians, it is especially hard to see the logic in allowing further blending of the populations.”

But whatever one’s policy views, information is useful. As Uri and I end the article, “It is hard to come up with hard numbers, and we acknowledge the limitations to our methodology. But the very fact that facts are hard to come by is significant: Transparency won’t end the debate on settlement expansion, but it would make that debate better informed and far more intelligent.”


Post a Comment 5 Comments

  • Posted by Neville Craig

    You quote your current FP article: ‘It is especially hard to see the logic in allowing further blending of the populations’.

    What proportion of the Occupied Territories have been ‘blending’ or rather, exist in a stand-off resembling apartheid?

    Having resided for years in divided Belfast, Amman and Nicosia, that reality of ethnocentric intolerance is known to me personally.

  • Posted by diana

    IMHO with some territorial adjustments a solution could be implemented by incorporating the West Bank into Jordan, propping up strongly King Abdullah and “letting” Egypt take care of Gaza. A Palestinian state that ties Gaza w/ the West Bank is a joke. A Fatah joke, a Hamas joke, an impossible idea. How would, both sides be governed…….with some sort of imaginary/real bridge?………………..

  • Posted by Sean

    Wow. I should be completely unsurprised that Mr. Abrams completely dodged the question to further his political views, but still. His 80,000 number is ridiculous on its face, and is dismissing hundreds of thousands of settlers occupying Palestinian land in direct violation of international law. He justifies it as “the terms of the most likely final status agreement”, but it sounds more like “the terms right-wing Israelis dream of.” The partitioning he advises would leave Palestine an utterly nonviable archipelago of a state.

  • Posted by Elliott Abrams

    Silly response; just read the Ross or Indyk memoirs of Camp David and the Clinton years to see theaters being considered then, and recall the terms being negotiated between Olmert and Abbas.

  • Posted by Sean

    Come now Mr. Abrams, you could have at least listed the real number before your equivocation. The Israeli Census of 2008 listed the full population as 280,000 (or, according to the BBC, 500,000), and that’s not even including East Jerusalem. That’s up from only 200,000 at the close of the Clinton years.

    The point is that not only is the illegal settler population significant, it is increasing; one need look only at the recent announcement of 1,200 new homes to see that. Mr. Abrams, how can the Palestinian people accept “peace” while their land is being stolen out from under them? Is it so much to ask that the dominant power obey international laws and norms; to engage in a little self-binding in the interest of peace? As is, the Israeli leadership is hardly a credible partner for peace.

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