Think of the West Bank today as one big puzzle with three separate pieces, called areas A, B, and C. Area A, which includes cities like Ramallah and Nablus, is completely administered and run by the Palestinian Authority; no Israelis are allowed to live or even enter this part of the West Bank. Area B is administered by the Palestinian Authority, but security is maintained by both Palestinian and Israeli police forces. One example of a city in Area B is Hebron. The final area, known as Area C, is Israeli territory, which includes all of Israel's West Bank settlements, such as Efrat and Ariel, and currently makes up for sixty percent of the West Bank. The remaining forty percent of it is home to nearly ninety eight percent of Palestinians; only an estimated forty eight thousand Palestinians, around two percent, live outside of Areas A and B and in Israeli territory. Still though, that's over half of the West Bank that's reserved just for Israel. Doesn't that seem a bit unfair? Upon more thorough examination however, the puzzle begins to piece itself together.
Ninety eight percent of West Bank Palestinians live under the administration of the Palestinian Authority in areas A and B. Only an estimated forty eight thousand Palestinians live in the largely vacant area C part of the West Bank. From all we hear about how intrusive Israel's settlements are, in reality, they don't even cover two percent of land in the West Bank, and all of them are inside of Israeli controlled territory that was agreed to between Israel and the Palestinians in the 1995 Oslo II Accords. Most of the Israeli section of the West Bank is unoccupied and permanent ownership of it will be determined in future negotiations.
So we've determined so far that Israel's settlement policies aren't really the reason why there's no peace. But aren't Israeli settlements illegal because they're built on disputed Palestinian territory? Well, not exactly. The Palestinian Authority is only an interim government meant to run the Palestinian territories until a state is created through negotiations. Palestine isn't officially a state; meaning it doesn't legally have borders. Even according to several key scholars and lawmakers, such as the former Dean of Yale Eugene Rostow, Israel's settlement activity in the West Bank is completely legal. Despite it being legally allowed to, Israel hasn't established a single new settlement since the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords, in which, by the way, the Palestinians agreed to allow Israel's current settlement policy.
So despite Israel's settlement policy being both legal and taking place inside of Israeli territory, why shouldn't Israel just try stopping its settlement construction to show how truly committed it is to peace? Well, in 2010, it did exactly that. As a gesture to the Palestinians to compromise on some of their demands, Israel instituted a ten month settlement freeze, meaning construction inside of the territories would be temporarily halted. This effort by Israel proved futile however, and the freeze was allowed to expire in 2011 after the Palestinians refused to compromise on even a single one of their demands. This wasn't the first nor the only time that Israel was willing to end its settlement activity in exchange for a true and lasting peace. It offered in both the 2000 and 2008 negotiations to not only freeze but even dismantle many of its settlements. Both times however, the first being under Yasser Arafat and the second under Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinians rejected Israel's offer.
Settlements are little more than a side-effect rather than a cause of conflict with the Palestinians. There were no Jewish settlements when Palestinian leaders preached violence against the Jews in the 1920s. Israel sought to compromise with the Palestinians before by giving them "land for peace" when they withdrew from Gaza in 2005. But instead of accepting this and moving forward towards peace, the Palestinians instead chose to use this territory as a launching pad for nearly eleven thousand rockets. Israel has never wanted anything more than peace with its neighbors, but until the Palestinians recognize Israel's right to exist as a sovereign Jewish state, peace with the Palestinians can't be in the foreseeable future.