The first settlements grew out of religious sentiment toward sites such as Hebron, where the biblical patriarch Abraham is thought to be entombed, and included efforts to reestablish a Jewish presence in areas where Jews had been forced to leave in the years before Israel’s independence in 1948, said Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior fellow at the Shalem Center, a think tank closely allied with the Netanyahu government.
That attachment underpins many of the settlements — the residents of largely secular Ariel note the nearby burial place of Joshua, Moses’s successor, while many West Bank enclaves draw their rationale from the Bible. But strategic, economic and other concerns became the dominant validation for an undertaking that, over time, has become too big and complex to reverse.
The larger settlements were meant “to push the border back” and leave Israel with a wider, more defensible center, Halevi said. “That has very little to do with historical claim and nothing to do with religious sentiment. The rationale was survival. That’s why these urban centers speak viscerally to mainstream Israelis.”
“The logic of the settlement blocks is that it gives the framework for Israel to stay in control,” said Jeff Halper, head of the anti-settlement Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.