Here you go then.
Guide for the Perplexed: The EU's new settlement guidelines
Get all the answers to your questions on the new European Union guidelines on the settlements.
European Union's new guidelines for dealing with settlements
Why does the European Union refuse to let its grant money be used on projects located over the Green Line?
The European Union, like most of the world, does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over territories beyond the Green Line and does not view them as part of the State of Israel. The EU, and most of the world, also does not view the activities of Israeli citizens across the Green Line as legal, since under international law a country may not settle its citizens in occupied territory; a country may only temporarily manage such territory on behalf of the local population.
Why does the EU decision also apply to East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, areas where Israeli civil law apply?
While Israel may have instituted its civil law, courts and administration in East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, thus basically annexing them to its territory, the international community does not view this as changing these territories' status. A country's unilateral annexation of territory during or following a war is not considered legal under international law. Nowadays, international law forbids the acquisition of territory by force. From the perspective of the international community, these are occupied territories just as much as the West Bank (and Gaza as well, which a significant portion of the world still views as occupied by Israel).
What is the Israeli position regarding the status of these territories?
Israel has not applied Israeli civil law to the territories gained in 1967, except for East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Thus, even from the perspective of Israeli law the rest of these territories are considered outside Israel's sovereign borders. Israel's claim with respect to the West Bank is that it was captured from Jordan, a country that also was not recognized as sovereign over the West Bank, and that the Geneva Convention that applies to territories conquered by a state from another state, therefore, does not apply to the West Bank. A similar claim was heard with respect to Gaza, which was previously held by Egypt. Due to this reason, from time to time Israeli figures are heard calling the territories “disputed,” but not occupied. Regarding its settlements, Israel claims that states are forbidden by the Geneva Convention to forcibly transfer their citizens to settle occupied territory but citizens may voluntarily move into occupied territory.
So what is the problem with Israel's claim to what it calls Judea and Samaria and what most of the world calls the West Bank?
Almost no one accepts Israel's claims that the Geneva Convention does not apply to the territories gained in 1967 because they did not previously belong to any country or that its citizens can voluntarily choose to move into occupied territory. The International Court of Justice in The Hague also rejected these claims when it ruled on Israel's West Bank separation barrier in 2004. It is clear that because the settlements were established by government edict and with a hefty amount of funds allocated from the state budget, their establishment falls under the definition of a population transfer in contravention of the Geneva Convention.
Israel is trying to have its cake and eat it too. On the one hand, it did not annex the West Bank into its sovereign borders or apply Israeli civil law and administration there. Palestinian residents of the West Bank were not granted Israeli citizenship. Israel enacted military rule in the West Bank and operates by this authority. When, for example, Israel confiscates land for security purposes, it does so under the international laws of occupation (found in the Hague Conventions) that impart specific powers to military commanders in occupied territory. On the other hand, Israel claims that the Geneva Convention does not apply to the West Bank, so the restrictions included in the Geneva Convention do not apply. The result is that Israel sometimes acts in the territories as if they are part of its sovereign territory: establishing Israeli cities, communities and factories and applies Israeli law to Israeli citizens living in this territory. However, Israel simultaneously treats that West Bank as occupied territory, administering it under martial law, with the original inhabitants of the occupied territory, the Palestinians, not given the same status as Israeli citizens. While at the same time Palestinian inhabitants are not given the full rights of residents of an occupied territory, including the provision preventing the occupying power from evicting them in favor of its own citizens. The Europeans are not willing to let grants they earmark for Israel to fund this policy.
Why consider the territories occupied, as they weren’t actually taken from any state to which they belonged?
The civilians living in the West Bank can be considered occupied, because they live under military rule imposed by a state of which they are not citizens, and the fact that the West Bank was not a Palestinian state prior to its present status does not change that fact. There is no doubt that the West Bank is located beyond Israel’s recognized borders, and are under military rule, and because of these facts, the civilian population that lives therein can be considered occupied. In many instances throughout the world, territories have been conquered from states that did not rightfully rule them: Morocco conquered the Western Sahara from Spain; Indonesia conquered East Timor after Portugal. This did not make those territories any less “occupied.” In addition, those two nations also unilaterally annexed the territories in question, and this also did not make them any less occupied. East Timor was eventually granted independence, and Western Sahara is considered occupied to this day. The fact that Israel conquered the West Bank from Jordan and Egypt, nations to which it did not belong, does not matter. What matters is that there is a population, living beyond the borders of a state living under military rule, being denied the basic right of self-rule and self-determination.
Are there really other territories in a similar situation?
Territories considered occupied are almost always shrouded in arguments, and occupying states often deny that the territories are indeed occupied. The International Court in The Hague recently discussed Uganda’s occupation of parts of the Congo. The most debated occupation in recent history was the U.S. and Britain’s incursion into Iraq, but this case differs from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, in that Israel’s occupation is long term, and includes settlements and a civilian population from the conquering state. Two similar situations that stand out are North Cyprus declared independence, but most of the world still considers it an occupied Turkish territory, rather than an independent state. The European Court of Human rights has frequently referred to North Cyprus as occupied and found Turkey guilty of human rights violations against the Cypriots and Greeks, by not allowing them to access their land. Western Sahara is still considered a territory occupied by Morocco. Back in 1975, the International court in The Hague decided that the population there, called the Sahrawi, should be granted the right to independently decide their own future, a realization of their right to self-determination. A referendum was supposed to be held in Western Sahara, but to this day that has not taken place. East Timor is another similar case, but was granted independence in 2002 following a referendum.
Why does international law forbid nations from settling in occupied territory?
It is fairly clear that if a conquering state begins to settle its population in occupied territory; a situation will be created in which the state relates differently to the occupied population, and to its own citizens, most likely resulting in discrimination against the occupied population. This situation is similar to colonization, or apartheid, and modern international law seeks to prevent it. Israel’s settlement policy did result in the situation which international law set out to prevent.
So the international community does not differentiate between settlements and “outposts?”
No, it does not. Most of the world sees the West Bank as occupied territory, to which the Geneva Convention is applicable, banning an occupying nation from settle its civilian population there.
What about “settlement blocs?”
According to international law, there is no difference. It seems that a future agreement between Israel and the Palestinians will leave settlement blocs in Israeli hands, but as of now, there is no difference. Clearly, it was not within then-President George W. Bush’s authority to change this reality in his famous letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, when he wrote that it is unrealistic to expect Israel to return to 1949 borders, based on the facts on the ground.
But in the past, states have conquered territories and made them their own
Modern international law includes numerous rules that forbid use of force, and acquiring land by force, as well as rules that uphold self-determination. International law seeks to do away with old-fashioned colonialism. Today, a state cannot take possession of a territory simply because it conquered it by force. Furthermore, states that do take possession of land by force generally annex those territories, and grant citizenship to their inhabitants (not to mention the darker periods of the past, most of such civilian populations were usually destroyed). Even though unilateral annexation is forbidden by modern international law, in theory annexation is supposed to include equal citizenship and stability. Israel’s presence in the West Bank is far from that, as it is an illegitimate prolonged occupation of a conquered population which was not granted citizenship.
But Israel promised to return land to the Palestinians and "there’s no one to negotiate with"
That claim is completely irrelevant. No matter where the “blame” lies for the fact that there is still no agreement, or the fact that negotiations are stalled, the legality of the settlements remains unchanged. Israel isn't fulfilling its obligations in the West Bank as an occupying state, and that is an issue separate from the peace process and negotiations. As long as Israel occupies the West Bank, it is expected to act according to the laws that govern occupied territories, laws that forbid settlement, and which stipulate that the occupying nation must run the occupied territory only temporarily, and for the benefit of the occupied population. The occupying army must guarantee security in the occupied territory, but not be used for settling populations. It is important to point out that the Oslo Accords, while granting some authorities to the Palestinians, did not alter the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and did not alter the legality of the settlements.