GLIMUN 2013 : Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Territories

The issue of Israeli settlements has its genesis in the 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and a coalition of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and allied states. In the course of the overwhelming Israeli victory in that conflict, Israel came into the possession of significant additional territories beyond its prewar borders in the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. Collectively referred to as the “occupied territories”, these areas were retained initially as bargaining chips and were later fortified and systematically settled so as to provide Israel with a strategic buffer in case of further conflict. This policy of settlement has been responsible for significant tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors, largely as a result of the social and economic devastation visited upon the current and former Arab residents of the occupied territory.

Israel withdrew from the Sinai in 1982 as part of its rapprochement with Egypt, and from the Gaza Strip unilaterally in 2005. As part of both withdrawals, previously established settlements were evacuated and demolished. However, the majority of the Israeli settlement effort was directed at the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and at the Golan Heights. The West Bank settlement policies, in particular, have been found by the UN Human Rights Council to have a substantial negative impact on surrounding Palestinian communities, ranging from legal and practical restrictions on freedom of movement to discrimination and outright violence due to ethnic and political tensions between settlers and their Palestinian neighbors. The placement of settlements has served to fragment and isolate the Palestinian residents of the West Bank from one another, and in some cases has significantly impeded their access to employment, medical and educational services, and even basic resources such as water. In addition, the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem has resulted in the displacement of thousands of Palestinian families from the area.

UN Security Council Resolution 242, ending the Six-Day War, called for the evacuation of occupied territories and mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity. Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank and the Golan Heights violates this resolution and, indeed, the annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights has been declared illegal by the UNSC, and the Israeli High Court of Justice has long held that the occupation of the West Bank is illegal. However, Israel has repeatedly claimed that the occupation and the settlement policy are necessary to ensure its national security, and despite resistance from the High Court and an abortive moratorium on new settlement construction, the settlement policy retains strong popular support within Israel. The settlement question remains perhaps the single greatest obstacle to peace.

Focus Questions

  1. In what ways can the international community address Israel’s legitimate security concerns outside the Israeli framework of settlement “buffer zones”? Does Israel have an economic motive for settlement construction, and if so can it be addressed?

  2. Is a total moratorium on new settlement construction an acceptable outcome? Must there be a withdrawal from all settlements? Certain settlements? Is a “land-swap” like the one proposed at the 2000 Camp David summit possible or necessary?

  3. How can the international community address the economic and social impact of the Israeli settlements on the Palestinian communities of the West Bank? Are Palestinians’ human rights being violated? If so, how should the international community respond?

Position Papers:

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