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One of the more controversial issues in the peace process has been the status of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. A plurality of Israeli Jews say these settlements help the security of Israel, but there is a political divide on this issue as well. The relatively small proportion of Jews (8%) who put themselves on the left side of the political spectrum overwhelmingly say settlements hurt Israel’s security, while those on the political right (37% of Israeli Jews) are just as apt to say settlements help Israel’s security or do not make a difference either way. Jews in the ideological center are split; equal shares say settlements help, hurt or do not affect Israel’s security. Meanwhile, most Israeli Arabs say settlement-building hurts Israel’s security.

https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/wp-content/uploads/sites/7/2016/03/Israel-Survey-Full-Report.pdf

Why does a plurality of Israeli Jews believe that the settlements in the West Bank help the security of Israel? According to a Pew Research poll, a plurality of Israeli Jews believe that the settlements in the West Bank help the security of Israel. However, not everyone share the same opinion, with people from the left and Israeli Arabs say the exact opposite. The article doesn't provide an explanation for this discrepancy.

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    A much better question is: Why do 26% of Israeli Arabs think the settlements help security? If you could figure that out, I think the other answer would closely follow.
    – Xerxes
    Commented Mar 18 at 14:44
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    @Xerxes - The Arab Israelis I met would much rather be "2nd class" citizens in Israel than "1st class" citizens anywhere else in the Middle East. They vote and have decent jobs, neither of which is possible in e.g. Gaza. OF COURSE they prefer the path they think will offer the best chance of peace/stability. The Israeli civilian presence was removed from Gaza, and we all see how well that worked out. Smotrich clearly has some justification for his opinion, though there's no good way to know what would have happened if Israel had maintained a civilian presence in Gaza.
    – Jeffiekins
    Commented Mar 18 at 20:55

4 Answers 4

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In Gaza right now, the Israeli far-right says the quiet part out loud. From CNN:

Far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also holds a position in the Defense Ministry, says that Israel “will rule there. And in order to rule there securely for a long time, we must have a civilian presence.”

Given that the current Israeli government is making moves towards annexing the West Bank, the purpose of the settlements is obvious even if public opinion polls don't directly ask about the rationale.


For some unfortunate reason, comments including my own were deleted, so I'm making an edit to point out that for the Israeli far-right "annexation" isn't even a thing. They simply see the West Bank as Israeli territory. For example Smotrich was referring to the West Bank when he apparently said on X that West Bank settlements would increase "our hold all over the country.” And as the answer from Dolphin 613 shows, the idea that Israel should control the West Bank is about as widely held an opinion as support for settlements. This further helps explain why they link Israeli settlement with security.

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    I see, that people who live far away know better, what everyone thinks and what Israel intends to annex. This is just not true. Israel, actually, does not intend to annex West Bank, despite vocal minority, like Smotrich saying some other things.
    – dEmigOd
    Commented Mar 16 at 17:42
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    @demigOd If you're point is that a majority of Israeli's don't necessarily want annexation, that's fair. The comment and answer by Dolphin 613 address this. My point is that a) moves towards annexation are happening and b) the minority that supports it thinks civilian settlement is necessary for security.
    – Brian Z
    Commented Mar 16 at 19:48
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    They clearly don’t see the West Bank as Israeli territory, because they don’t intend to make the people who live there Israeli citizens.
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Mar 19 at 7:37
  • @dEmigOd yeah the majority may not want to. But the current government does (or is at least let those who want to do what they do and supports their efforts)
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Mar 19 at 8:50
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    @MikeScott you're confusing two completely separate things. They absolutely see the TERRITORY as (to be/should be) Israel. The fact that they don't want the current inhabitants to be Israelis has no causal relation to that
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Mar 19 at 8:52
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The 42% of Jews who say that [West Bank] settlements "help Israeli security" isn't too far from the percentage that wants [parts of] the West Bank annexed, as 2020 poll found:

Half of Israelis support annexing parts of the occupied West Bank, although they are divided over whether to take the step without U.S. support, an opinion poll showed on Wednesday.

Some 25 percent of Israelis surveyed by the Israel Democracy Institute think-tank said they want their government to apply sovereignty to Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank even without backing from Israel's closest ally. [...]

Another quarter of the 771 Jewish and Arab Israelis polled preferred annexation only with Washington's backing, while another 30 percent opposed the move entirely. The remaining 20 percent were undecided.

Since your poll is from 2016, somewhat earlier (2018) the percentage of West Bank annexation supporters was somewhat lower/similar (although there can also be variation due to how poll questions are phrased etc.)

Haaretz Poll: 42% of Israelis Back West Bank Annexation, Including Two-state Supporters

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The idea of Israel partially or fully annexing the West Bank, originally touted only by the far-right, appears to be gaining broader acceptance on the center and left. Only 28 percent of those polled oppose any annexation. The number is 35 percent among non-Jewish respondents, although almost the same portion – 31 percent – of non-Jews polled support annexation in some form.

A total of 15 percent support annexing Area C (the parts of the West Bank that were placed under full Israeli control under the Oslo Accords). This is where the majority of Israel’s 400,000 settlers live, alongside an estimated 300,000 Palestinians.

Sixteen percent of those polled support annexing the entire West Bank without giving any political rights to the Palestinians who live there. Meanwhile, 11 percent support full annexation, but with the provision that Palestinians are given rights, i.e. the right to vote and run for office. Among non-Jewish respondents, support for this alternative rises to 20 percent.

And yeah, it's apparently been official policy since June 2023 although I've not followed all the details, here are some snippets:

The gap between Israel’s words and actions on the West Bank began changing in 2017, when officials in Netanyahu’s then-government began discussing plans for unilateral annexation of the territory. That December, Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party passed a resolution instructing its legislators to “pursue” full annexation of the West Bank. But it was clear to those who voted in favor of the resolution that it had only declaratory status and could not be implemented immediately due to international objections.

Then, in the leadup to Israel’s 2019 elections and the emergence of then-U.S. President Donald Trump’s so-called “deal of the century”—which prescribed a partial Israeli annexation of the West Bank—Netanyahu declared in media interviews that he would promote the “gradual” application of Israeli sovereignty to the territory. Netanyahu said he discussed “annexation by consent”—U.S. consent—with the Trump administration.

Netanyahu has repeated this messaging several times since. The new government he formed last year with extremist settler parties mentions “the Jewish people’s exclusive right over the entire Land of Israel” in its manifesto. The coalition agreement between Likud and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s hard-line Religious Zionist Party is more specific, stating, “The prime minister will work towards the formulation and promotion of a policy whereby sovereignty is applied to the Judea and Samaria.” (Judea and Samaria are the biblical names for the areas comprising the West Bank and are typically used by the Israeli right.)

[...] While Smotrich did not receive the commander’s full portfolio, the transfer still dramatically changed the structure of Israel’s regime in the West Bank: For the first time, it placed many administrative powers in the occupied territory in the hands of a civilian. The move effectively anointed Smotrich de facto governor of the West Bank.

According to the agreement, Smotrich (referred to as “the minister within the Ministry of Defense”) will appoint civilians for official positions in the military government, such as the newly created position of deputy head of the Civil Administration, the military agency in charge of civilian matters for Israeli settlers and settlements in the West Bank; he will also appoint these officials’ legal advisors.

Moreover, Smotrich will be solely responsible for designing much of Israel’s colonization policy in the West Bank. Issues such as land allocation, planning, and construction in most areas outside of Palestinian cities and villages; law enforcement on illegal construction by both Palestinians and Israelis; infrastructure; water allocation; and much more all now fall under Smotrich’s purview.

So this is somewhat more than just words.


BTW, going back to your [Q] poll, there's this obvious myside bias aspect too:

Perhaps not surprisingly, a solid majority of Israeli Jews who currently live in the West Bank say the settlements help Israel’s security (65%).

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For a number of reasons:

  1. Civilian presence forces the military to act accordingly and deploy boots on the ground, instead of just erecting walls and allow those on the other side of the wall to develop threatening capabilities, which end up causing even more civilian harm and requiring even more military action. This isn't just theory, it's the only practical difference between Jenin and Gaza.

  2. Terrorists tend to attempt to attack the first target they find. So well protected villages in terror infested areas, serve as baits luring terrorists to try to attack them instead of driving for another few minutes into vulnurable central Israeli cities.

  3. As interesting as it may sound (there are maybe some phsychological explanations), as a matter of fact, Arabs who are used to see Jews around are usually less violent towards Jews.

Still working on sources.

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While not attributing any weights to the following factors vis-a-vis "most Israeli Jews", I would note the answer might be highly dependent on the timing of such a question - poll is dated 2016 - as well as the hidden motivations (the problem with poll respondents giving "socially acceptable answers" is well known):

  • After 1967 and until Israel established military dominance over the neighbors in the 80/90s/improved diplomatic relations: settlements were a spoiling force/tripwire/defence in depth over road networks which might have allowed armored forces to cut Israel in two quickly.

  • Post 10/7 it is also fairly evident that settlements in Gaza would have greatly hindered forming a brigade-sized attack without detection. (That the insistence on settlements and refusal for a two state solution * drives up the impetus for such an attack is also true, but not directly part of this Q). Also stated in this answer.

  • Post 10/7 it is also evident that protecting settlements in the West Bank absorbed much of the IDF's forces and attention, leaving the Gaza border way too lightly defended. **

  • Last, but not least, settlers have all sorts of religious beliefs and financial incentives to live there. The possibility is strong that an individual mostly motivated by those, especially the financial aspect, will instead answer "it is good for Israel's security". With 450k-675k settlers (depending on who you count) and their families and friends "back home", this contingent is going to weigh significantly in any poll.

* the Palestinians themselves also haven't been very realistic about a two state solution, such as the insistence on a full right of return. Let alone Hamas insistence on eradicating Israel.

**

Jan 2023 IDF deploys three additional battalions to West Bank amid heightened tensions

The IDF Took Away Weapons From Gaza Border Communities in Recent Years, and Armed West Bank Settlers in the Thousands

The crisis shows the failure of Israeli policy towards Palestinians, says Shlomo Brom

The small Israel Defence Forces (idf) contingent deployed along Israel’s border with Gaza crumbled and could not prevent the butchering of almost a thousand people, most of them civilians

How West Bank Settlements Led to the Conflict in Gaza - The American Prospect

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