I often hear the assertion Israel's West Bank settlements are illegal, and I expected to be able to find a clear statute, treaty or some such which the existence of the settlements unquestionably contravenes. However, after several days of research, and with the full understanding I am not a lawyer (nor do I play one on TV), while I still feel the weight of the arguments supports the claim the settlements are illegal, I am forced to concede there is more murkiness surrounding the issues than I expected.
What isn't murky is there will be no lasting peace in the region until those settlements are removed, and Israel's prospects for future security necessitate removing them.
For decades now most parties have agreed a "two-state" approach is the only one which can be successful, and for a separate Palestinian state to be feasible Israel would have to cede control of the West Bank to a new, independent, Palestinian nation. Despite this general acknowledgment, however, the number of Israeli settlers in West Bank territories has continued to grow, from 110,000 in the early 1990's to nearly 300,000 today ... without counting East Jerusalem (which I see as a separate issue).
Not surprisingly, Palestinians view this continuing influx of settlers as tantamount to explicit sabotage of any peace negotiations. The logic is not hard to follow - if all parties agree peace requires a separate Palestinian state, and that state will be founded in the West Bank, yet Israel continues to actively claim more land in the West Bank, Israel must not seriously desire peace.
A number of Israelis have suggested any serious effort to forcibly remove the settlements might well lead to an Israeli civil war, which is not a pleasant prospect. It is, however, a threat which Israel has to stop tap-dancing around and confront the issue. Making a clear, large, concerted effort to remove the settlements would do more to promote peace and security in the region than any number of bombs dropped in Lebanon or Gaza.
The vast majority of Israeli settlers are themselves religious extremists, who hold the entire country hostage to their demands that Arabs be evicted from the "Promised land". Moderate Israeli's, by-and-large, seem fed up and exasperated with them, yet little is done to rein them in. Until Israel gets serious about dealing with its own extremists, why should they expect Palestinians to be serious about dealing with theirs?