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Settlements in Focus - Vol. 3, Issue 1: "Quality of Life Settlers"

"Quality-of-life settlers" is an informal term referring to Israelis who move to settlements primarily for economic reasons, rather than for reasons of political and/or religious ideology.

Ariel Israeli Settlement - West Bank


Settlements in Focus

Quality of Life Settlers (Vol. 3, Issue 1)
A publication of Americans for Peace Now

What are "quality-of-life settlers"?

Map of settlers' expected reaction to a government decision for their evacuation, from Peace Now public opinion study 2002.

Click here for a high-quality PDF file of this image with more details.

"Quality-of-life settlers" is an informal term referring to Israelis who move to settlements primarily for economic reasons, rather than for reasons of political and/or religious ideology. This is not a technical, precise term - certainly some quality-of-life settlers are also religious or have, over time, become ideologically committed to the settler enterprise. Similarly, not all secular settlers moved to the settlements for quality-of-life reasons (for example, most Jordan Valley settlements were founded by secular Israelis driven by some level of ideological commitment to ensuring that Israel keeps that territory.

That said, it is possible, in a general sense, to divide the settlers into three main categories, as follows:

- Ideological settlers, who mainly use religious and nationalist arguments to justify the settlements' existence and their own presence in the West Bank, and who generally live deep in the heart of the West Bank (see Settlements in Focus, Volume 1, Issue 10 for details on this category of settlers -;

- "Quality-of-life settlers," who, as described above, were motivated to move to the West Bank primarily (though not necessarily exclusively) for economic reasons, and who generally live in settlements located closer to then Green Line; and

- Ultra-orthodox settlers, who are essentially a subset of the quality-of-life settlers, in that their presence in the West Bank is a function, almost exclusively, of the construction of cheap, segregated (i.e., ultra-Orthodox-only) housing close to the Green Line, at a time when the existing ultra-Orthodox housing inside Israel is expensive and overcrowded (see Settlements in Focus, Volume 1, Issue 10 for more details on this category of settlers -

How did quality-of-life settlers come into being?

The settlement movement was spearheaded by ideologically-driven individuals who were (and remain) passionately committed to settling and "reclaiming" all of the biblical land of Israel for the Jewish people.

However, very early on the settlement movement also took on a distinctly economic aspect. Successive Israeli governments (led by both Labor and Likud) heavily subsidized the settlements, for various reasons. These reasons included political considerations, such as appeasing the settlement movement's leaders and playing to the right-wing national-religious camp inside Israel. They also included ideological reasons, bearing in mind the commitment of many Israeli leaders and politicians (from both Labor and Likud) to holding onto key areas of the West Bank, including areas with historical resonance for Israel (such as the Etzion bloc) and areas once considered strategically important for Israel's security (like the Jordan Valley, locations along main transit routes, and areas of high elevation).

With an insufficient number of Israelis to populate all of these areas drawn to the West Bank (and until recently, Gaza) for purely ideological reasons, successive Israeli government undertook policies intended to motivate a broader part of the Israeli public to move to the occupied territories. In doing so, Israel created a class of settlers who were drawn to the West Bank primarily for economic reasons -- better housing at comparatively cheaper prices than could be found inside Israel, tax breaks, subsidies on transportation and education, etc.

Are there still special incentives to entice Israelis to move to the West Bank for quality-of-life reasons?

The general package of incentives provided to settlers is described in detail in a report by Israel's premier human rights organization, B'tselem, entitled "Land Grab" (chapter 5, pp.57-67, B'tselem notes:

".all Israeli governments have implemented a vigorous and systematic policy to encourage Israeli citizens to move from Israel to the West Bank. As shown in this chapter, one of the main tools used to realize this policy is the provision of significant financial benefits and incentives. For the purpose of this discussion, a distinction will be made between two types of benefits and incentives granted by the government: support granted directly to citizens by defining settlements as 'national priority areas,' and support granted to local authorities in the West Bank (i.e., to the settlements) in a manner that favors these settlements in comparison to local authorities inside Israel."

With respect to the settlements' designation as "national priority areas," B'tselem notes that "national priority areas" are, at least in theory, supposed to be principally places where "the scope of opportunities of citizens residing in the peripheral areas is in many respects limited by comparison to that in the center [e.g., near Tel Aviv]." However, many settlements located in decidedly non-peripheral areas - i.e., near Jerusalem, close to the Green Line, or in close proximity to Tel Aviv or other Israeli population/employment centers - are designated as "national priority areas." B'tselem concludes that "it would seem that the factor determining the inclusion of most of the settlements on the map is not the 'limited opportunities' available to the settlers due to the distance from the center of Israel, but rather the desire to encourage Israeli citizens to move to the West Bank for political reasons."

B'tselem provides a detailed description of how, under this designation, settlers are granted benefits and incentives from various government ministries, including:

  • the Ministry of Housing and Construction (providing, among other things, financial assistance to help people purchase or build in settlements, including in some cases loans which convert partly into grants after a set number of years);
  • the Israel Lands Administration (providing discounts on land);
  • the Ministry of Education (providing incentives to teachers and subsidizing education costs);
  • the Ministry of Trade and Industry (providing substantial grants and tax benefits (corporate and individual) to "approved enterprises" as well as underwriting the costs to establish and maintain industrial zones);
  • the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (providing benefits to social workers similar to those provided to teachers by the Ministry of Education); and
  • the Ministry of Finance (providing, until 2003, substantial income tax breaks to settlers, with most settlers getting a 7% income tax break).

In addition, benefits and incentives are provided through local authorities - municipalities, and local/regional settlement councils. Looking at this basket of benefits, B'tselem concludes,

"The research shows that throughout the 1990s, the Israeli government favored the local authorities in the Occupied Territories (and in the Golan Heights) in comparison to local authorities in Israel. Per capita financial transfers were 150 percent higher. As a result of the considerable government contribution, the residents of local authorities in the Occupied Territories were required to independently fund (through self-generated income) twenty-five percent less than the national average, and ten percent less than the average for development towns. In total, the per capita budget available to the local authorities in the Occupied Territories was more than forty percent higher than the national average throughout the 1990s, and approximately thirty percent higher than the average for the development towns."

Tax breaks for settlers were further detailed in an article in Ha'aretz entitled "Decades of tax breaks for the settler population," published September 25, 2003. That article noted:

"The annual report on state revenues for 2001 is the first - and so far the only - publicly accessible provide a detailed description of the income tax benefits granted over the years to the settlers (and also to residents of northern Israel and the Negev). The document also notes that these benefits are granted for ideological reasons.Israeli governments have justified providing tax breaks to certain communities that are located in outlying areas or lack a solid socioeconomic foundation. This is not always the case with the settlements. Many of the Jewish communities in the territories are located close to the center of Israel ('Five minutes from Kfar Sava,' 'Five minutes from Jerusalem') and their economic situation is sometimes much better than the national average. The report for 2001 states that the total income tax benefits for settlers that year was NIS 130 million. The number of taxpayers in the territories was 36,320, including 34,430 in the West Bank and 1,980 in the Gaza Strip. The average benefit per taxpayer in the West Bank was NIS 6,456 a year (or about NIS 540 per month), compared to NIS 8,834 a year (about NIS 750 per month) in the Gaza Strip."

For the most part these incentives have not changed, other than the cancellation in 2003 of the 7% income tax break that most settlers have traditionally enjoyed. This 7% income tax break is still relevant to the discussion of quality-of-life settlers, since most of quality-of-life settlers moved to the settlements when the tax break was still in effect (and was expected to remain in effect).

In addition to these traditional benefits and incentives, a new subsidy was recently announced. On January 1, 2007, the Israeli mass circulation newspaper Ma'ariv reported that the government of Israel has allocated special funding in the 2007 budget to compensate Israeli industry and agriculture in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Golan Heights. The funding is intended to compensate settlers for commercial losses that may result from a European Union policy that excludes goods produced in settlements from the tariff-free status that Israeli products enjoy under commercial treaties Israel has signed with the EU. The EU had threatened to impose a tariff on all exports from Israel if the government of Israel did not agree to clearly mark products coming from settlements as such. With these new Israeli government subsidies, the government of Israel (and Israeli taxpayers) is making sure that the settlers do not suffer from this European "discrimination." This funding totals 26 million New Israeli Shekels (NIS) [around $6 million], of which NIS 20 million will be allocated by the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor (to compensate factories and industrialists), NIS 1 million will be allocated by the Agriculture Ministry, reportedly mainly for farmers in the Jordan Valley and Golan Heights, and the remaining NIS 5 million will be allocated by the Finance Ministry.

Map showing settlers' readiness to leave in exchange for compensation, from Peace Now public opinion study 2002.

Click here for a high-quality PDF file of this image with more details.

How can you distinguish between ideological settlements and quality-of-life settlements?

A public opinion study conducted in 2002 on behalf of Peace Now examined settlers' expected responses to a government decision to withdraw from the part of the West Bank containing their settlement and their readiness to leave in exchange for compensation. Mapping the responses provides a fairly clear picture of the geographic dispersal of quality-of-life vs. ideological settlements in the West Bank (see maps included in this edition of Settlements in Focus).

The religious-nationalist settlements, inhabited by settlers driven more by ideological motivations than quality-of-life motivations, are located for the most part deep inside the West Bank, often very close to (or in the heart of) Palestinian populated areas. These locations often reflect the religious-nationalist motivation of the settlers, with the settlements' locations, at least in theory, coinciding with sites of Jewish settlement from earlier periods in history.

In contrast, the locations of the quality-of-life settlements generally reflect pragmatic, easily observable considerations that impact on the quality of life of the settlements inhabitants: i.e., close proximity to the Green Line and transportation routes into Israel; relative distance from Palestinian built-up areas; and proximity to built-up areas inside Israel. The location of these settlements, affording easy access to employment and social/cultural life inside Israel, coupled with economic benefits described earlier, ensure that the quality of life enjoyed by residents of these settlements is substantially higher than they could obtain for the same price inside Israel.

The difference between quality of life settlements and ideological settlements is evident not only in the locations of the settlements but in the names of the settlements. Most (but not all) of the ideological settlements bear the names of locations referred to in the Bible: e.g., Shilo, Eli, Elon Moreh, Ofra. Most of the quality-of-life settlements have names that are from modern Hebrew and have no special religious or historical significance linked to the site itself: e.g., Ariel (a biblical name for Jerusalem but located in a site that has nothing to do with this), or Barkan, which has no biblical significance.

Is it fair to say that quality-of-life considerations were the only thing that motivated Israelis to move to these settlements?

No. Most of those settlers whose primary reason for moving to the West Bank was to obtain a higher quality of life also evidence a clear inclination toward the Israeli political right. An examination of voting patterns of settlers illustrates this point, with even settlers in "quality-of-life" settlements showing a strong preference for right-wing parties (for details, see: Settlements in Focus, Volume 2, Issue 6 -

How much of the total settler population falls into this category of "quality-of-life settlers"?

Today there are around 270,000 thousand Israelis living east of the Green Line (not including East Jerusalem). Estimates of how many of these settlers fit into the category of "quality of life settlers" vary, based on the methodology on which the estimate is based.

Peace Now bases its estimate on a survey it conducted in the summer of 2002 - at the time one of the most comprehensive surveys ever done among the settlers. The goal of the survey was to create a socio-political map of the settler population. In order to do this, interviews were conducted in 3200 households, spread across all of the settlements (including in the Gaza Strip). For the full results of this survey see:

A specific question was included in the survey in order to capture information about quality of life settlers. The question asked: "What was the main reason you moved to the West Bank?" Peace Now was somewhat surprised when 77% of respondents answered that various quality of life considerations played the primary role in their decision, while only 20% said that religious-national arguments were their main concern, and only 3% said that national security was their primary consideration.

Translating these percentages into population numbers, we can extrapolate the data from the 2002 census figures. In 2002 there were approximately 220,000 Israelis living in settlements (see: Based on the findings of the Peace Now survey, this means that in 2002 around 170,000 settlers (including children and infants) were quality-of-life settlers.

It is important to note that the 77% includes some settlers living in so-called "ideological settlements." This finding is particularly interesting, since it seems to indicate that quality-of-life considerations (including not only economic considerations, but also things like the religious and social character of a community and proximity to family and friends) are more important considerations than ideology, even among many of the most ideologically-motivated settlers.

It should be kept in mind that an individual's own judgment of his/her motivation for moving to a settlement may vary over time, based on any number of subjective circumstances and experiences. Thus, regardless of methodology, any estimate of the number of quality-of-life settlers - including the Peace Now estimate - should be considered at best a rough approximation. That said, even this rough approximation is instructive, pointing to the very clear conclusion that the settlers' enterprise, as it was shaped over past four decades, is much less a strictly ideological phenomenon as many people mistakenly believe it to be. Rather, it is largely the result of the policies of successive Israeli governments, who thus bear the main responsibility for it.

What is the relationship between the quality-of-life settlements and the route of the security barrier?

One of the great ironies of today's reality on the ground in the West Bank is that the settlements erected by the settler vanguard - the true believers of the settlement movement, are the ones most threatened by the route of the security barrier. As noted earlier, these ideological settlements are located, for the most part deep inside the West Bank and often close to Palestinian population centers. Unfortunately for the residents of these settlements, most Israelis today view the security barrier as the de facto current and future border of the state of Israel, and expect settlements located on the Palestinian side of the barrier - i.e., most of the ideological settlements - to eventually be evacuated.

At the same time, the route of the security barrier has been distorted - diverging from the internationally recognized Green Line - in order to accommodate settlements and settlement blocs located along or near the Green Line. These are precisely the largely non-ideological, quality-of-life settlements (including the ultra-Orthodox settlements, which, as noted earlier, are a subset of the quality-of-life settlements). Ironically (and unsurprisingly), surveys of settler attitudes have shown that these same non-ideological settlers who are being "saved" by the barrier are the ones who would generally be willing to leave the settlements in the context of a peace agreement and compensation plan, as opposed to their ideological counterparts located deeper inside the West Bank, many of whom promise to resist efforts to evacuate them.

Thus, the route of the barrier is in effect accommodating the settlers who would be most willing to be relocated back inside the Green Line, while leaving out the settlers who are most likely to resist a government decision to dismantle settlements.

Are the quality-of-life settlements growing?

Generally speaking, most of the settlements in the West Bank are growing, some faster than others. The fastest growing settlements are the ultra-orthodox settlements, which as noted earlier are a very specific subset of the quality-of-life settlements. Recently the Ministry of Interior published data indicating that the largest settlement in the West Bank (in terms of population) is Modi'in Illit, which recently surpassed Ma'ale Adumim to gain this distinction. Both Modi'in Illit (which is essentially the extension, inside the West Bank and abutting the Green Line, of the Israeli city of Modi'in) and Ma'ale Adumim (located in the West Bank, just outside of Jerusalem) are clearly the epitome of quality-of-life settlements, inhabited largely by non-ideological settlers attracted to them by the lower housing prices, proximity to Israel, and relatively higher quality-of-life.

Other smaller settlements scattered throughout the West Bank which used to be mainly populated by secular, quality-of-life settlers have been going through changes in recent years. In some, there has been a marked decline in population, due to the increase in violence and insecurity -- and accompanying decrease in quality-of-life -- associated with the onset of the second Intifada. In others, the population is gradually becoming increasingly ideological and religious, as the non-ideological settlers are replaced by ideological and religious settlers, resulting in increasing tensions between the veteran residents of the settlements and the newcomers, who naturally want to have more influence in these settlements as their numbers become greater. Such a process can be seen, for example, in Mevo Dotan (west of Jenin), Adora and Telem (west of Hebron), Tene (south of Hebron) and Gittit (on the western edge of the Jordan valley). All of these settlements are going through a process of population transformation, with the population gradually shifting from quality-of-life settlers into more religious, ideologically committed settlers.

In addition, other large quality-of-life settlements located within the recognized "settlement blocs" -- like Ma'ale Adumim and Givat Zeev (on the outskirts of Jerusalem), Alfei Menashe (south of Qalqilya) are all growing, at various rates. Interestingly, the population of Ariel - a quality-of-life settlement that is actually located deep inside the West Bank (but with excellent transportation links to Israel) - actually shrunk by 50 residents in 2006, according to a report published in Ma'ariv on January 9, 2007 (for background on Ariel, see Settlements in Focus, Vol. 1, Issue 2 -

Produced by Lara Friedman, Americans for Peace Now,
and Dror Etkes, Peace Now