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“It is impossible to defend Jerusalem unless you hold the high ground…. An aircraft that takes off from an airport in Amman is going to be over Jerusalem in two-and-a-half minutes, so it’s utterly impossible for me to defend the whole country unless I hold that land.” –Lieutenant General (Ret.) Thomas Kelly, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War

Executive Summary

At its smallest width without a position in Judea and Samaria, Israel stretches nine miles.  Without IDF positions in these disputed territories, Israel is indefensible. Further, without a presence in the mountainous region of Judea and Samaria that overlooks the vast majority of Israel’s population, Israel is also defenseless.

Basic Facts

  • The number of Israelis in Judea & Samaria is 400,000 (not including 210,000 Israelis in Jerusalem’s post-1967 neighborhoods).  
  • Estimates of the Arab residents of Judea & Samaria range from approximately 1.7 to 2.8 million due to the unreliability of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) census data. 
  • 98% of Palestinians in Judea & Samaria are governed by the PA and vote in PA elections.
  • Israelis who live in Judea & Samaria are citizens of Israel. 
  • Approximately 8% of Judea & Samaria has been developed. Israeli settlements cover 1.7% of all land.
  • Most of the roads that crisscross the region are open to all.  However, a few number are sometimes restricted depending on the security situation, and, in the approximately 40% of Judea & Samaria that is under the control of the PA, it is illegal for Jewish Israeli citizens to enter or use those roads.
  • Israel gained control over Judea & Samaria during the 1967 Six Day War, a war of self-defense. Previously, the Judea & Samaria were occupied by Jordan, after Jordan’s invasion of Israel in 1948. 

Legal Status

  • The “Mandate for Palestine” was granted to Great Britain by the League of Nations in 1922 for the purpose of establishing a Jewish national home in the Land of Israel.
  • Numerous legal authorities dispute the allegation that the settlements are “illegal.” Stephen Schwebel, the former President of the International Court of Justice, explained that a country acting in self-defense may seize and occupy territory when necessary to protect itself. Schwebel also observes that a state may require, as a condition for its withdrawal, measures designed to ensure it is not menaced again.
  • United Nations Resolution 242 did not mandate Israel’s withdrawal from all territories liberated in 1967; rather, it referred to only some of the territory.  The United States has supported this viewpoint.
  • Judea & Samaria are not occupied but are disputed territories.
  • In November 2019, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, announced that Israeli settlements are not inconsistent with international law.

Purpose of Settlements: Security

  • Israel has received bipartisan support for its right to maintain “defensible borders.”  Israel needs defensible borders because it has been and continues to be under constant threat; including the threat of terrorism, either by suicide bombers, stabbings and shooting attacks, and/or the use of mortars and rockets; the threat of long range rockets, and the threat of conventional warfare.   
  • The settlements are essential in maintaining defensible borders, primarily because the 1967 lines at their narrowest point stretch 9 miles from the Israeli coast, 11 miles from Tel Aviv, 10 miles from Be’er Sheva, 21 miles from Haifa, and one foot from Jerusalem.
  • The settlements widen Israel’s most narrow width, which was 9 miles during Jordanian occupation; this ensures Israel will have a route to the Jordan Valley if Israel was forced to fight a war to the east.
  • Without Israeli presence in Judea & Samaria the IDF would not be able to prevent Palestinian Katyusha rocket fire that has in range over 70% of Israel’s population and 80% of her industrial base.
  • Katyusha rockets have at least a 12 mile range– after Israel left Gaza in 2005 Palestinians smuggled Katyusha rockets into Israel, intended to be launched into Israel to murder innocent civilians.  If Israel would evacuate Judea & Samaria, Palestinians would undoubtedly smuggle Katyusha rockets into Israel.

Map of the rocket threat from Judea & Samaria to Israel

  • Judea & Samaria are positioned on a formidable mountain range, towering over central Israel.  From north to south, Israel’s major urban population center lies below the heights of Judea and Samaria.

Settlements have never been an obstacle to peace or a path to expansion

  • Under Jordanian control, from 1949-1967, there were zero Jewish settlements in the Judea and Samaria – Jews were prohibited from living in the territories – and despite this there were numerous terror attacks carried out by Palestinians against Israel.
  • In 1978, Israel froze the building of new settlements for 3 months in the hopes of increasing the chances of the Arabs to join the Camp David peace process, but it did not. 
  • Israel froze settlement building in 2005 and November 2009 – September 2010.  In 2005 Israel evacuated all settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in Northern Samaria as part of the “Disengagement Plan.” 
  • During the Oslo accords in September 1993 and Oslo 2 in September 1995, Jewish population grew in the disputed territories by roughly 50%, which did not deter Palestinians from signing the accords.
  • In 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered proposals to withdraw from most of Judea & Samaria but then PA President Yasser Arafat refused, and launched a campaign of terror – the Second Intifada.  
  • In 2001, Arafat refused the U.S. plan by Clinton and endorsed by Barak which would have given the Palestinians 97% of the West Bank, and full control of the Gaza Strip, with a land-link between the two; Israel would have withdrawn from 63 settlements. In exchange for the 3% of the West Bank, Israel would increase the size of the Gaza territory by roughly a third. Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem would become the capital of the new state, and refugees would have the right of return to the Palestinian state, and would receive reparations from a $30 billion international fund. The Palestinians would maintain control over the holy places, and would be given desalinization plants for adequate water.
  • After the 2005 disengagement by Israel from Gaza, Palestinians did not make peace, but instead incited more terror attacks, built an underground terror tunnel network, and launched thousands of rockets with the goal of murdering civilians.  The Palestinians destroyed the green houses left behind for their use.
  • In 2008, PA President Mahmoud Abbas rejected Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plan in which Israel would have withdrawn from 94% of Judea & Samaria, with an offer to compensate the Palestinians with Israeli land equivalent, along with a link to the Gaza Strip.  The plan would have withdrawn Israelis from Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem and placed the Old City under international control.
  • In 2010, PM Netanyahu froze settlement construction for 10 months. The Palestinians refused negotiate with Israel until the period was almost over. After agreeing to talk, they walked out when Netanyahu refused to continue the freeze.

A Double Standard

  • The EU has been providing modular housing for Palestinian and Bedouin herding villages, particularly in the area of Ma’aleh Adumim and in the South Hebron Hills. More than 400 Palestinian homes have been erected in an area legally placed under jurisdiction of the Israeli Government in the Oslo Accords, which the EU signed into statute.

About the Author

The Endowment for Middle East Truth
Founded in 2005, The Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) is a Washington, D.C. based think tank and policy center with an unabashedly pro-America and pro-Israel stance. EMET (which means truth in Hebrew) prides itself on challenging the falsehoods and misrepresentations that abound in U.S. Middle East policy.

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