2000-member American rabbi
group backs Obama on complete settlement freeze, and you can
Today, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which represents nearly 2,000 Reform rabbis, including a significant percentage of Brit Tzedek supporters, issued a statement in support of President Obama's call for a complete freeze on settlements; this includes natural growth, as "in the best interest of the United States, of the State of Israel, and of peace." Read statement.
The largest U.S.
rabbinical association is backing President Obama's Middle East
leadership. Will you? Please sign "We've Got Your Back, Mr. President" today.
To help you better understand natural growth-related issues,
we developed the FAQ appended below. You can download it
1) What is "natural growth" in the context of the
"Natural growth" is
the term used by the Israeli government to refer to its
perceived need to expand existing settlements, both within and
beyond their borders, in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The
authorities claim that additional construction is necessary to
accommodate the housing needs of growing Jewish families --
including the desire of settlers' adult children to settle in
the same place.
The current impasse between Israel and the United States
regarding settlements is centered on the question of "natural
growth." The US-backed 2003 Road Map to Peace, by then-Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon, called for a complete settlement freeze.
The Obama administration has said that it will insist that the
current Israeli government abide by a complete cessation of
construction, but the Netanyahu government has replied that the
Bush administration allowed for exceptions to the "freeze."
2) Is all settlement expansion for purposes of
Not to date. According to
Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, 63% of
population growth in the settlements in 2007 resulted from
"natural growth" (the excess of births over deaths) and 37% of
the growth came from immigration (the excess of newcomers moving
in over those moving out). Bottom line, there are today more
than 50,000 additional settlers living in the West Bank than at
the time that the Sharon government signed the Road Map to Peace
Overall, the annual population growth in settlements, at 5.6
percent, far outstrips the Israeli average of 1.8 percent. The
settlements' disproportionately high level of state-supported
building and other subsidized services compared with most
regions of Israel has long been used a state-backed incentive to
encourage Israelis with or aiming to have large families to
relocate to these communities. It's worth noting that within the
internationally recognized borders of Israel, there is no such
government commitment to provide economical housing for adult
Jewish children wishing to remain in the community in which
their parents live, nor to provide larger homes for expanding
3) Does Israel accommodate Palestinian "natural
On the contrary. For Palestinian families
with Israeli residency in East Jerusalem, the government
has a tacit policy of discouraging building for natural
growth by denying building permits, as well as the routinely
demolishing homes built without such permits. Palestinian
communities on the West Bank are hemmed in on all sides by a
long list of Israeli impediments: the security barrier,
Israeli-only access roads, closed military zones, permanent road
blocks, and of course the settlements themselves.
4) What is U.S. and Israeli policy on
The U.S. and Israeli governments
agreed to freeze "all settlement activity (including natural
growth of settlements)," in Phase One of the Road Map to Peace,
signed by Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the "Quartet" (the
U.S., E.U., Russia, and the U.N.) in 2003.
According to Israeli officials, however, the Bush
administration had an oral agreement with Israel that building
could continue within the boundaries of certain settlement blocs
-- under the condition that no new land was expropriated, no
special economic incentives were offered, and no entirely new
settlements were built. Former Bush administration
officials have given conflicting accounts of these discussions.
The Obama administration has said that it will not be bound by
informal oral agreements for which Israel can produce no record.
In reference to the signed Road Map agreement, the current
administration insists that a "settlement freeze" means a
complete cessation of all new building in settlements, with no
In theory, every U.S. administration has opposed settlement
construction since 1967, when Israel's victory in the Six Day
War left the West Bank and Gaza Strip under its control. The
Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations called
settlements "illegal," after which time there was no reference
to their legality, as the American focus shifted to the fact
that settlements present an obstacle to peace.
The biggest change to this approach came in 2004, under the
Bush Administration: Then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon requested
and was given a letter from the President, stating that "in
light of new realities on the ground, including already existing
major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect
that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and
complete return to the armistice lines of 1949." This was
interpreted to mean that the U.S. government had accepted
Israel's future annexation of certain settlement blocs, though
it is important to note the careful language employed: "existing
major Israeli population centers" - not future construction.
5) Why is "natural growth" a problem in negotiating a
final status peace agreement?
According to most
formulations, the borders of a Palestinian state will follow the
internationally recognized "Green Line" -- the pre-Six Day War
borders of 1967 Israel -- with mutually-accepted territorial
exchanges, in particularly around the larger settlement blocs.
The constant construction and expansion in these blocs --
ostensibly to accommodate "natural growth" -- is viewed as an
attempt to predetermine the borders of any future Palestinian
state, or, as it has long been expressed in Hebrew, "establish
facts on the ground." The more people, the more houses, the more
roads, the harder it will be to negotiate changes around the
borders -- especially with regards to the inevitable
evacuation of a number of settlements. The position of
most of the international community is that Israel should not
attempt to predetermine borders through the creation of facts on
6) Where does the U.S. Congress stand on "natural
A growing number of prominent U.S. Senators
and Representatives, including several Jewish Congressmembers,
have begun to openly express their concerns over Israel's
settlement policy. These include Jewish members of Congress such
as Sen. Carl Levin, chair of the Senate Armed Services
Committee, Rep. Howard Berman, chair of the House Foreign
Relations Committee, and Rep. Henry Waxman, a senior Democrat,
as well as the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,
Sen. John Kerry. During Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu's visit to the White House, several Jewish lawmakers
met with the Prime Minister and expressed the opinion that "it
was their responsibility to make him very, very aware of the
concerns of the administration and Congress," according to a
7) What is the Palestinian and Arab view of "natural
Both the Palestinians and the Arab nations
view "natural growth" as an Israeli excuse to continue to
illegally expropriate Palestinian land. They demand that
"natural growth," along with other types of settlement
construction, be stopped, as a precondition to peace
negotiations and normalizing ties with Israel.
Moreover, it's important to remember that every home that
Israel builds on the West Bank is a constant reminder to the
Palestinians that their leadership has failed to achieve almost
anything for them -- that indeed, their daily lives are now more
difficult than in the past, and more of their land gone. For the
Palestinian leadership to get support from their own people,
they will need to be able to show tangible improvement on the
ground. Settlement expansion of any kind, including "natural
growth," will only damage the prospects of achieving this aim.
Resources for Information on Natural
Reform rabbis back Obama on settlements by
Eric Fingerhut. JTA. June 10, 2009.
House hunting in the West Bank by Gershom
Gorenberg. The American Prospect [web only]. June 4,
Key U.S. Jews wary of Netanyahu's unbending policy
on settlements by Nathan Guttman. Haaretz. June 3,
Pollsters Find Israeli Public Less Supportive Of
Settlements by Nathan Jeffay. The Jewish Daily
Forward. June 3, 2009. [paper issue] June 12,
Israel and U.S. Can't Close Split on
Settlements by Isabel Kershner. New York Times.
June 1, 2009.
The Big Question: What are Israeli settlements,
and why are they coming under pressure? by Donald Macintyre.
The Independent. May 29, 2009.
Presidential demagoguery: Natural growth a foolish
excuse used by Peres to justify settlement construction by
B. Michael. Yediot Aharonot. May 15, 2009.
Archive of documents dealing with the Israeli occupation of
and settlement in the occupied territories: South Jerusalem
"Separate and Unequal: The Inside Story of Israeli Rule in
East Jerusalem," by Amir S. Cheshin, Bill Hutman, and Avi
Melamed, Harvard University Press, May, 1999.
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