Jewish homes and other private Jewish developments (what are commonly called “settlements” take up roughly TWO percent of the land area of the “West Bank.” That leaves roughly 98% of “West Bank” land available for a Palestinian state, plus, of course, 100% of the Gaza Strip EVEN IF the Jewish towns that currently exist remain in place and remain under Israel’s sovereignty and control as they are now.
Something many people forget, or never heard of, is that this situation is not simply a kind of limbo that came into existence in the aftermath of the 1967 war, where Israel re-captured the West Bank from illegal Jordanian occupation, in addition to capturing Gaza, Sinai, and the Golan in self-defense. In 1993, Israel and the Palestinian Arabs — represented by Yasser Arafat, then the universally recognized sole legitimate negotiating representative of the entire Palestinian Arab people worldwide — signed a treaty called the Oslo Accords. Oslo drew up a TEMPORARY set of borders, to allow NORMAL LIFE to go on under a recognized sovereign, pending the future day when Israel and the Palestinian Arabs would sign a FINAL status agreement making peace and resolving all competing claims and issues.
Oslo gave the Palestinians full civil AND security control over the parts where 97% of the Arabs of the territories lived, which was designated Area A. Israel, in turn, had BY AGREEMENT WITH ARAFAT full civil AND military control over certain thinly populated parts of the “West Bank,” mostly adjacent to the pre-1967 “Green Line” (actually, the Armistice line set by the 1949 Rhodes cease-fire agreement) and in the strategic Jordan Valley. A relatively small buffer zone between Arab Area A and Israeli Area C was under full Arab civil governance but remained under temporary Israeli military and security control; this zone is known as Area B. Most of the remaining 3% of “West Bank” Arabs live in Area B.
The current Area A (under the Oslo Accords) plus Gaza, is the FIRST TIME in world history that a Palestinian Arab political entity has ever had self-government and full civil autonomy. Also, the idea is that the land area under full Palestinian Arab control will almost certainly INCREASE, not decrease, in the course of further direct negotiations between the parties, as required by the Oslo formula that Arafat signed, on the way to a final peace agreement that would resolve all outstanding claims and issues.
In the meantime, the Palestinian Arabs have NO cause to complain that Israel, which was given FULL civil and military sovereignty over Area C by Arafat per the Oslo Accords, pending such final status agreement, actually takes those words seriously and treats Area C as if it were fully part of Israel, at least to the extent of allowing Jews to buy land and live there. Nobody FORCES Jews to buy homes in Area C; those who do so are simply exercising their innate human right to buy and own property obtained from a willing seller, or from non-privately-owned “state land” that is put up for sale or lease by the current sovereign — in this case, Israel.
ALL of the Jewish towns and businesses in the “West Bank” are in Area C; the Palestinian Authority, which governs Area A fully and has civil jurisdiction over Area B, demands that no Jew may live in lands under their control, and imposes the death penalty on any Arab who sells land to a Jew. Those who “oppose settlements” are essentially insisting that Israel discriminate against its own Jewish citizens by denying them this basic human civil right to own property. And it IS only the Jews that the anti-settlement forces are condemning for living in the “West Bank,” since nobody raises a fuss whatsoever if an Israeli Arab buys land in, or moves into, the “West Bank.”
Nevertheless, no settlement is irreversible or permanent. Israel is willing to trade land for peace. To achieve peace with Egypt, Israel dismantled several Jewish towns in Sinai and forcibly moved thousands of Jews — every single one of them who lived in Sinai — out of the peninsula, and also withdrew all military forces. For the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza that was undertaken in hopes it would “prime the pump” toward peace negotiations even without any commitment from the Arab side, Israel did the same thing, removing ALL civilian AND military Israeli presence from the Gaza Strip. A lot of good it did peace-wise, though.
So any arguments that “settlements” are “in the way” of a final peace agreement and creation of a real Palestinian state are pure hogwash. What is in the way of a final peace agreement, and statehood for Palestinian Arabs, is Palestinian Arab unwillingness to make peace with Israel. If it were not the “settlements” that they claimed were an “obstacle,” they would find some other excuse. If that’s all it was, why did not the Arabs make peace with Israel during the 19 years between 1948 and 1967, when Jordan, not Israel, occupied the “West Bank” and Egypt occupied Gaza? Why did the Arab nations start an aggressive war against Israel’s existence in the first place, in 1948? And why was the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) created in 1964, 3 years before the 1967 war led to the Israeli recapture of the so-called “Palestinian territories?” Because, in all instances, they wanted Israel GONE, that’s why. When the Palestinian Arabs stop calling Israel’s existence illegitimate and demanding that it be dismantled — that’s what “Palestine shall be free, from the river to the sea” MEANS — then making peace, and drawing permanent boundaries for a two-state solution, will be the relatively EASY part. It’s changing those hate-filled attitudes of the Arab leadership that is hard, and which make a two-state solution nigh impossible at present and for the foreseeable future.