Jewish settlement in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip territory has existed from time immemorial, and this was expressly recognized as legitimate in the British Mandate for Palestine adopted by the League of Nations, which provided for the establishment of a Jewish state in the Jewish people's ancient homeland.
   Beginning in the second half of the 19th century, Jewish immigrants (see ALIYA) began to establish settlements throughout Palestine. The purpose of these settlements was to provide security to civilian settlements, kibbutzim, and moshavim in far-flung areas of Palestine and to establish permanent Zionist "facts" on the ground. The paramilitary Nahal program combined military service with agricultural activities in support of these settlements. Several of the early settlements were destroyed or evacuated in the War of Independence (1948^49). Many of them, especially the Etzion Bloc and Hebron, were reestablished in the immediate aftermath of the Six-Day War (1967), while new settlements were established in the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, and Golan Heights.
   A great deal of settlement activity occurred between 1967 and 1977 under Labor-led governments, but the emphasis in that period tended to be on using settlements to reinforce Israel's strategic interests in the Occupied Territories and around Jerusalem. Under Labor, most settlement activity was state sponsored and funded, however in some cases (such as the small settlement established by Rabbi Moshe Levinger in Hebron on the eve of Passover, 1968), settlements were established as a result of private initiatives and against government wishes. The pace and scope of settlement activity changed substantially with the ascendance of Likud to power in 1977, with an emphasis on encouraging maximum Jewish presence in all parts of the Occupied Territories so as to make it difficult to evacuate from them in the context of future peace agreements. Nevertheless, it was under Likud that all settlements in the Sinai Desert (such as Yamit) were evacuated in the early 1980s in fulfillment of the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty.
   Since 1967, no Israeli government had formally introduced as policy the prospect of disbanding and evacuating settlements in the West Bank. The Galili Document of 1973 preempted an apparent move by Labor Party doves to place the status of settlements on the negotiating table. During the campaign preceding the 1992 Knesset election, Labor Party chairman Yitzhak Rabin made vague references to the possibility of Israel's eventually evacuating political settlements (that is, settlements established provocatively alongside or amid Arab population centers in the West Bank or in far-flung parts of the territories and offering no strategic value to Israel) while maintaining permanent control over security settlements (that is, those settlements vital to the security of Israeli populations in the West Bank) and Jerusalem. However, Rabin never specified which settlements he placed in each category.
   At Israel's insistence, discussion of the permanent status of settlements was deferred until the final-status phase of the Oslo process.
   Nevertheless, the settlements issue was a source of controversy between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators from the outset. There were some 280,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip at the end of 2007, constituting about 3.5 percent of Israel's total population.
   In the Camp David II negotiations with the Palestinians in July 2000, Israel's Ehud Barak put forward a proposal that would see approximately 80 percent of West Bank-Gaza settlers concentrated into three major blocs of settlements on between 3 and 5 percent of West Bank land. In December 2003, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced that all 21 Israeli settlements in Gaza and 4 settlements in the northern West Bank would be evacuated as part of his plan for unilateral disengagement from the Palestinians; the disengagement was implemented in the summer of 2005.
   In an exchange of letters with Sharon on 14 April 2004, United States president George W. Bush stated that, given prevailing realities on the ground, including the existence of Jewish civilian population centers beyond the Green Line, it was unrealistic to expect Israel to withdraw fully to the 1949 armistice lines within the context of any permanent peace agreement. The Israelis interpreted this statement as meaning that there would be a permanent Jewish settlement presence in the West Bank. Kadima prime minister Ehud Olmert's "realignment" plan, articulated during the 2006 Knesset campaign, spoke about the integration of settlements beyond the security barrier into three major settlement blocs (Gush Etzion, Ma'aleh Adu-mim, and Ariel).
   See also Arab-Israeli Conflict.

Historical Dictionary of Israel. .

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