There can be no doubt that a major obstacle to a peace agreement which would establish a viable and independent Palestinian State alongside a secure Israel are the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It is for this very purpose that the settlements were located where they are by those Israeli governments and forces who wanted to prevent any future peace agreement. During this current period, characterized by serious clashes, violence and suffering, but also by the first signs of a diplomatic horizon, the settlement issue has emerged as a key factor in determining the future. Successive international interlocutors, both the Mitchell Commision and the Quartet, attempting to restore stability and restart diplomatic negotiations, have recognized that a settlement freeze is a vital first-step in this process.
Settlement Watch Project
Since 1990, Peace Now has taken upon itself to provide reliable and accurate information regarding the expansion activities of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. Its “Settlement Watch” project was established for that very purpose, its principal objective being to bring to the attention of the Israeli public information regarding what is being done on the eastern side of the Green Line in its name and with its resources. We believe that it is extremely important for people to be familiar with basic facts as a condition for carrying out informed discussions about the future of the State of Israel’s control in the territories. The need to create a civilian, impartial source of information which has, at its disposal, the necessary resources and ability to pinpoint, classify and publicize those very facts, has been driven by political realities in Israel. Since the end of the 1970’s, most of Israel’s governments have made an effort (to which the settlers themselves have contributed to a certain extent) to conceal from the eye of the Israeli public the scope of construction activities in the territories, and the heavy price – economic, security and social – which Israel has had to pay in order to realize the misleading vision of a “Whole Israel.”
Settlement Watch focuses mainly on the following aspects of the settlement issue:
• Physical development – Where and why are there construction and expansion activities connected to the settlements or their residents? And what are the short- and long-term implications of these activities?
• Economy – How much do the settlements cost and who is paying for them?
• Demography – How many settlers and how many Palestinians live in the territories? What are the demographic trends that can be pointed out today?
• Proper management – How are decisions regarding construction and development made? What elements are responsible for planning and for the enforcement of the construction laws and regulations in the territories?
• Environmental implications – What are the environmental implications of the settlements and the continued construction that is being undertaken there?
Sources of data:
• Surveys throughout the West Bank, focusing upon and closely following up on the development of settlements and outposts.
• Periodic aerial photography of all of the settlements and outposts where there is an Israeli civilian presence. These photographs are then compared with photographs of previous surveys in order to pinpoint and quantify the changes on the ground.
• Publications issued by official bodies of the State of Israel (i.e. the Central Bureau of Statistics, the Ministry of the Interior, the media, Talia Sasson’s report on the outposts, etc.).
• Replies received from official government bodies which, by virtue of the law regarding freedom of information, are obliged to provide replies to questions and letters.
• Publications from various civilian organizations and NGO’s.
• Publications in the general press.
• Publications in the specialty press belonging to the settlers themselves.
• Specific information received from people.
From the time of its inception until today, Settlement Watch has earned the reputation of being the best source of reliable and extensive information regarding the settlements. The reports and data published by the Settlement Watch staff are published on a regular basis throughout the world and the Israeli press. In addition, they are quoted in a wide selection of official, academic and governmental documents.
Today, after Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the evacuation of the four settlements in the northern section of the West Bank, the activities of the Settlement Watch continue throughout the West Bank, where there are still 117 official settlements, as well as over 100 settlements outposts.