Twenty years after the Oslo accords:
The settlements may have destroyed trust between the sides but, they have not destroyed the two-state solution
At a first glance at the population statistics of settlers, you see simply that the number of settlers have tripled since the Oslo accords. However, by looking a bit closer you will see that in fact, most of the settlements with population growths are those that according to the final status model of the Geneva Initiative, will remain under Israeli control in exchange for land swaps. In fact, half of the new settlers since Oslo, moved to only three settlements.
The Oslo Accords were a series of gradual interim agreements, intended to lead to a final status agreement, planned to take place in May 1999. The incremental nature of the process, allowed opponents from both sides to undermine it: in Israel Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated by an extreme right-winger, and on the Palestinian side Hamas continued to carry out terrorist attacks. This led to Israeli elections in which Netanyahu came to power, stopped the Oslo process and did not even start to work towards final status negotiations.
The wording in the agreements regarding settlements was vague and unclear. It simply stated, “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.” (Article XXXI – 7). During the interim period, no settlements were evacuated. Following the IDF withdrawal from the center of Palestinian cities, the government began to build a system of bypass roads, allowing safe access to settlements during the interim period, until their final fate would be determined in a permanent agreement. These by-pass roads helped develop the settlement enterprise, and thus the Israeli government continued to build in the settlements. This had major impacts on the relations between Israelis and Palestinians; mainly it destroyed the Palestinian’s trust in Israel’s genuine intention to reach a two-state solution.
Despite the population increases that are undeniable, the settler movement has not succeeded in its attempt to take over the West Bank with Israeli-Jews. Regardless of the plans and expectations made by the government and settler movement, many of these hopes remain unfulfilled. Both secular and religious settler populations refuse to let ideology drive their decision-making. For example, the ultra-orthodox community was given the settlement of Immanuel, southeast of Nablus, intended as an Orthodox city of tens of thousands. Since Oslo the population of Immanuel has declined from 3,240 residents to only 3,013. Rather, when the settlements of Beitar Illit and Modi’in Illit were established close to the Green Line, the ultra orthodox moved there in the thousands for economic, not ideological reasons.
Similarly, the secular city of Ariel, was intended to be a large city with thousands of housing units and tens of thousands of residents. However over the last 20 years, the population of Ariel has had a stymied growth of merely 6,300 people, from 11,800 residents in 1993 to 18,100 residents today. In fact, Ariel remains smaller than Israeli towns such as Mevasserat Zion, Yokneam Illit, Arad or Migdal Haemek. Ariel’s failure to attract new residents has not prevented the government from investing more in Ariel. In the last years, the government issued tenders for 480 new housing units and even built a university there.
The Jordan Valley settlements also present a similar indication of failure by the settler movement. Most of these settlements are inhabited by secular-Jews, and were built by the Labor party in the 1970s. The population of the Jordan Valley settlements has continued to decline each year, similar to other non-ideological isolated settlements, such as, Mevo Dotan and Maale Amos.
The settlers have failed in their attempt to create irreversible facts on the ground that would prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. In recent years, under the previous and current Netanyahu governments, there has been an attempt to change that picture by developing more isolated areas and building projects precisely in the areas that will undermine the two-state option. The more time that the government and settler movement has free reign to build and develop isolated areas, the more difficult a two-state solution will come. 20 years after Oslo, they have not won, but the fight for the two-state solution must remain vigilant and determined.
Population Data Since Oslo:
- Population of Settlers Tripled: According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, before the Oslo Accords (end of 1993) there were 110,066 settlers in the West Bank and another 6,234 in the Gaza Strip. Today there are 341,418 settlers in the West Bank only. This is even more than triple the pre-Oslo population.
- Half of the population growth (114,000 residents) was in only three settlements:
- Modi’in Illit (an addition of 55,500 settlers),
- Beitar Illit (an addition of 38,500 residents) and
- Maale Adumim (an addition of 20,000 residents).
- 64 % of population growth was in settlements west of the Geneva Initiative Line: The number of settlers may have tripled, but 64% of the growth was in areas that under the model of the Geneva Initiative would stay under Israeli control as part of a land swap (see map).
- 86% of new settlers in isolated settlements (east of the Geneva Initiative line)joined religious or mixed religious/secular settlements which are more ideologically motivated. This means that the vast majority of settlers who came to live in the isolated settlements are ideological settlers. The settler movement did not succeed in filling the West Bank with hundreds of thousands of Israelis. Rather the new settlers are almost exclusively religious ideological settlers who live in isolated settlements.
- The total number of settlers living today east of the Geneva Initiative line composes only 1.8% of the Israeli population.
- Outposts: After Oslo, the Israeli government took upon itself not to establish new settlements. Instead, the government established a new type of settlement called ‘Outposts’ which are officially illegal under Israeli law, but at the same time are encouraged and supported by the government. Since Oslo Israel has built 100 new settlements, under the guise of ‘outposts’. The settlers hope to turn outposts into large settlements with permanent houses and thousands of settlers. However:
- 80% of the buildings in the outposts are transportable: mobile homes and light-construction buildings.
- Most of the outposts remain small in size, containing less than 20-30 families.
- Only 10,000 settlers live in all of the outposts put together.
- Only three outposts were legalized and recognized as new settlements (Sansana, Bruchin and Rechelim); another six outposts are in different stages of legalization as “neighborhoods” of existing settlements, and the government has declared its intention to legalize another four outposts in the future.