I don’t really know what they refer to on the ground, only that they are spoken of very controversially and often called illegal.

But my understanding is basically that Zionist Jews who believe that no land should have ever been conceded to the Palestinian authorities move onto those territories that were by various treaties/accords/agreements recognised to be Palestinian and then construct clusters of dwellings on them to live as a way of cementing or entrenching Jewish presence on those lands and agitating toward crowding Palestinian sovereignty thinner and thinner.

I also happened to learn recently that according to Gaza law, it is an offence for a Gazan to sell land to anyone connected with the state of Israel.

The questions then are:

  • what territory or jurisdiction do the settlements come under?
  • What was the previous status or ownership of most of that land? That they are described as settlements suggests to me that they were previously unsettled, so nobody would have broken those laws by selling it to them.
  • Would the settlement of unsettled land in itself, if no already privately owned, settled or occupied lands had been encroached on, be illegal if done by Palestinians rather than Jews?

What laws can the settlements be taken to break?

  • 6
    The answer is in the question: they violate "various treaties/accords/agreements."
    – phoog
    Oct 31, 2023 at 22:57
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    @phoog A good answer would tell us which clauses of which treaties are violated and explain why these acts are a violation.
    – Philipp
    Nov 1, 2023 at 17:08
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    @phoog You seem to miss the question’s essence entirely: treaties/accords/agreements are between nation-states while the settlements are presumably done by individuals: are the settlers themselves violating the law (and if so, whose/which?), or is the state of Israel violating the international treaties/accords/agreements by extending state/military protections to the settlements on other countries’ territories thereby violating their sovereignty and violating international law? Nov 1, 2023 at 17:09

4 Answers 4


This appears to be summed up from the Wikipdia articles West Bank Legal Status, Israel 1967 Occupied Territories, and Israeli Occupation of Palestine, but I will organize and summarize:

From 1517 to 1917 the West Bank was part of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey, successor state to the Ottoman Empire, renounced its territorial claims in 1923, signing the Treaty of Lausanne, and the area now called the West Bank became an integral part of the British Mandate for Palestine. During the Mandate period Britain had no right of sovereignty, which was held by the people under the mandate. Nevertheless, Britain, as custodians of the land, implemented the land tenure laws in Palestine, which it had inherited from the Ottoman Turks (as defined in the Ottoman Land Code of 1858), applying these laws to both Arab and Jewish legal tenants or otherwise. In 1947 the UN General Assembly recommended that the area that became the West Bank become part of a future Arab state, but this proposal was opposed by the Arab states at the time. In 1948, Jordan occupied the West Bank...

The crux is, as of 13 May 1948, Britain was custodian of the Palestine region (there was no "Palestine" conutry yet), and the people had sovereignty, so no state had sovereignty over the area. When the British Mandate ("Mandatory Palestine") was in process, United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine was planned to establish Israel, a new country called "Palestine", and a "Special International Regime for the city of Jerusalem". The "Jewish Agency for Palestine" reluctantly agreed, but the "Arab Higher Committee", the "Arab League" and other Arab leaders and governments rejected it, because most of the land (~57%) was being given to to Israel, despite the fact that there were far more Arabs (725,000 ) than Jews (407,000), and the Arabs had been living there for literally thousands of years, while the Jews had literally just showed up. Eventually, the British gave up and left.

The British Mandate ("Mandatory Palestine") ended in 1948, at which point Israel founded itself, claiming (most?) lands from the UN partition plan, and a military coalition of Arab states immediately moved their militaries in to the West Bank (Mostly Jordan), and attacked Israel, but did not claim sovereignty.

In 1949, Israel signed peace treaties ending that war, with Transjordan's military occupying the West Bank. Note that at this point, no state has claimed sovereignty.

April 24, 1950, Jodan declared sovereignty, but "On 12 June 1950, the Arab League declared the annexation was a temporary, practical measure and that Jordan was holding the territory as a "trustee" pending a future settlement." Britain and the USA recognized Jordans claim, but Israel did not. This dispute is the source of the later disputes.

In 1956, Egypt cut off some of Israel's Ocean trade passages, and this escalated into The six day war, at the end of which, Israel's military now occupied the West Bank. Israel then moved in many Jewish families to found new settlements in the area. This is where we get to the crux of your question:

  • According to countries that accepted Jordan's annexation, this territory is "Occupied Territory", and therefore these settlements are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Part 3, Article 49 which contains The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.
  • According to countries that do not accept Jordan's annexation (which is basically just Israel), this is "Disputed Territory", because no border was ever formally agreed upon, and no state had accepted sovereignty over the area.

In 1988, Jordan renounced claims to and severed administrative ties and sovereignty with the territory in 1988, to the Palestine Liberation Organization, and establish the country of "Palestine" for the first time. But since Israel never acknoledged Jordan's ownership in the first place, they also never acknowledged Palestine's existence, and therefore never acknowledged Palestine's sovereignty. Israel's stance was that this land still had no state ownership.

But then things got even more confusing! In 1993, Israel and Palestine Liberation Organization signed The Oslo accords for Israel to remove their military, for the PLO to take over ownership, that Israel would formally recognize "Palestine" as a new country, and that they had 5 years to work out the details of a peace plan. Israel claims that, even if the settlements were hypothetically illegal in the first place, the settlements have now been handed over to the PLO, and therefore the problem has already been solved. International courts disagree, upon observing that Israel never actually withdrew their military, so therefore the region is still under military occupation.

Palestine is Complicated

  • 1
    Why is the question of Jordanian sovereignty still even important if Jordan itself reduced those claims in 88? Nov 1, 2023 at 19:30
  • @Seekinganswers: I was unaware of that, but have looked into it and added it to the answer. I thank you for the addition, but in the end, it appears to have not affected much. Nov 1, 2023 at 20:40

In what way are Jewish settlements illegal?

This has been debated many times at the UN. One of (?) the most recent is United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 which held that Israel's settlement activity constitutes a "flagrant violation" of international law and has "no legal validity".

The resolution states that all measures aimed at changing the demographic composition and status of Palestinian territories occupied by Israel, including construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians are in violation of international humanitarian law, Israel's obligation as the occupying Power according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, and previous resolutions.

The resolution passed in a 14–0 vote by members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Four members with United Nations Security Council veto power (China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom) voted for the resolution, while the United States abstained.

  • This affirms that they are illegal, but I think the asker might be confused about why they're illegal. "What laws can the settlements be taken to break?" and "believe that no land should have ever been conceded to the Palestinian authorities", and this post doesn't appear to actually answer any of those questions :( Nov 1, 2023 at 16:22
  • Wrt "What laws can the settlements be taken to break?" I hoped to answer that with "violation of international humanitarian law, Israel's obligation as the occupying Power according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, and previous resolutions". The statements about the beliefs of anyone are not legal questions. The question of the history of private/public land ownership in the region is complex, I am unable to appropriately discuss it and AIUI pretty irrelevant to the legal question.
    – User65535
    Nov 1, 2023 at 16:53

Re: "What was the previous status or ownership of most of that land? That they are described as settlements suggests to me that they were previously unsettled."

Palestinian villages are in valley bottoms, as they have always been, since that's where the water is in an arid region, and you won't build homes elsewhere without modern pumps and water infrastructure.

Settlers construct settlements on hilltops, like European castles of old: Settlement so yes, it's usually "unsettled", but previously used communally for sheep grazing.

The infrastructure to service the settlements, like roads(which only settlers are allowed to travel on), power lines, etc. necessarily has to go through the valley bottoms where the Palestinians live/farm: Settlement road And that land is just expropriated for the settlements. Israeli source: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2018-09-05/ty-article/.premium/israel-admits-to-top-court-we-paved-road-on-private-palestinian-land

The article talks about a specific case, but that pattern is common practice throughout the West Bank.

  • 6
    This is a useful comment, but doesn't address the legality under international law.
    – gerrit
    Nov 1, 2023 at 8:04
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    In addition to the main question, the author explicitly asked "what territory or jurisdiction do the settlements come under?" and "What was the previous status or ownership of most of that land? That they are described as settlements suggests to me that they were previously unsettled." I'm explicitly answering the second sub-question.
    – Eugene
    Nov 1, 2023 at 9:00
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    @Jen It is neither a reasonable approach, nor the "way SE is supposed to work." One question, one answer. If you have a second question, ask a second question, don't add it to the first one. This question is a prime example of why that rule is in place. Now, SeekingAnswers can't select the 'best' answer because two answers each answer part of their question.
    – CGCampbell
    Nov 1, 2023 at 16:03

"Settlements" are enclaves in the West Bank. The West Bank (of the Jordan River) was seized by Israel from Jordan after Jordan attacked Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967. Settlements are legal in the way that countries get to set the laws that are in effect in their own country. While the international community considers the West Bank to be occupied territory, Israel has basically declared it their sovereign territory by their actions, and short of war, there is no way to force Israel to give it up.

  • Both "occupied" and "disputed" imply that Israel claims authority over the territory, so I don't see a problem with that statement.
    – yyny
    Nov 1, 2023 at 9:28
  • @herisson, their action make it clear
    – Tiger Guy
    Nov 1, 2023 at 13:29
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    @herisson I use the definition "supreme authority within a territory" as well, which is why I consider the statement accurate. The permanence of the claim is not relevant. If Israel disputes, occupates, or exercises control over a territory, then they are by definition declaring it sovereign.
    – yyny
    Nov 1, 2023 at 13:43

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