top of page

Israeli Settlements Through the Lens of International Law

Updated: May 13, 2021

The Israeli settlements inside the Occupied Palestinian Territory have been a hot topic ever since the very first one was established. The Practice was labelled a war crime by the International Court of Justice and the Un. Israel, however, counters that the settlements are perfectly legal. They have also argued that the Palestinians are focusing on the Settlement Issue to avoid Peace Talks. If settlements are such a contentious issue that they could slow the conclusion of a feud that has defined the Middle East region for 100 years, then the issue surely deserves another look.

The settlement issue arose from the dust of the 1967 Middle East War. Israel had been given certain areas by its enemies Jordan and Syria in their peace treaties, which contained many Palestinians, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Those areas were soon built up with settlements, with Israeli citizens encouraged to move there. This process has led to there being 132 settlements and 113 outposts(settlements without official sanction) populating the areas taken in 1967. However, the legality of these settlements is put into question by the way the Israelis took the land. In the 1950s, the 4th Geneva Convention was adopted by the United Nations. This convention stipulated in article 49 that “Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.” This article is used by the Palestinians, the UN, and the ICJ to claim that the settlements are a war crime. (International Committee of the Red Cross, n.d.)

Israel rebuts these assertions by claiming that they do not in fact occupy the land because the land was received while fighting a defensive war. To explain this argument, we must refer to the 1960s. The reason why the 1967 Middle East War (better known by us as the 6-day war) was started by the Israelis, according to them, was because hostile actions were being taken by Egypt against them. These actions were the closing of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, as well as the invasion they say was being planned by Egypt at the time. This is the crux of the argument. If the Six-Day War was fought by Israel in self-defence, then the settlements are perfectly legal, whereas if the war was an offensive one, then the settlements are a war crime under International Law and Israel must remove the settlements immediately. It is the broad view of the international community that Israel did indeed fight an offensive war in 1960, but it cannot be proven, so this issue has been in deadlock ever since. (BBC, 2019)

The Israeli-Palestinian feud has been going on longer than most people have been alive. It has caused countless deaths on both sides and has caused so much pain and suffering. It has lasted so long for two reasons, stubborn leaders and seeing the other side as the enemy, which could be considered true. The Israelis won’t negotiate on settlements because when they hear any concession to the Palestinians, they hear rocket bombs flying at their cities and the Palestinians won’t negotiate with the Israelis. After all, they see them as occupiers and that the whole of Palestine should be theirs. The only way this crisis will ever truly end is when, to quote a surprisingly profound source, “Everybody does what they were always going to have to do in the first place, sit down and talk."



BBC, 2019. Israel and the Palestinians: Can the settlement issue be solved?. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 30 April 2021].

International Committee of the Red Cross, n.d. Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949.. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 30 April 2021].


bottom of page