There are 700,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank and, according to the international community, the presence of every one of them there is illegal. During the 1967 war, Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria. Soon after, it began establishing Israeli communities in those territories. Today, it retains control of East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the West Bank, and imposes a land and maritime siege on Gaza. Those territories are considered by the international community as occupied by Israel.

The West Bank is home to 3.3 million Palestinians and it is where the bulk of Jewish settlements are. Israel has continued to expand settlements over decades despite signing a series of peace agreements with the Palestinians in 1990s called the Oslo Accords that envisaged the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza as part of a negotiated resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

There are 146 settlements dotted throughout the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem), many of which encroach on Palestinian villages and, in some cases, privately owned Palestinian land. Some are built in close proximity to Palestinian population centers and one, in Hebron, sits in the heart of a Palestinian town. In East Jerusalem, there are 14 Israeli neighborhoods, which the international community considers illegal.

The prevalent view among the Palestinians and Israel’s allies in the West is that the settlements are a major obstacle to peace, making a contiguous, whole Palestinian state in the West Bank impossible.

Settlers are Jewish Israelis who live in the Israeli-occupied territories, mostly in communities built by the Israeli government. Many of them are ideologically driven and believe they have a divine right to live on the land as stipulated by the bible, though other settlers opt to live in the West Bank because it offers a lower cost of living and the Israeli government subsidizes housing costs. There are more than 450,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank.

Settlers in the West Bank fall under Israeli civilian rule and have their own road and transportation networks, while Palestinian residents fall under Israeli military rule, are forced to go through Israeli military checkpoints, and are largely barred from entering Jewish settlements. The dual system – one for Jews and one for Palestinians – has been criticized by Israeli and international humanitarian groups as being a system of apartheid, a charge Israel strongly denies.

Many of the settlers are armed and some have engaged in deadly attacks against Palestinian civilians.

The influence of settlers in Israeli politics has grown tremendously over the years. The current Israeli coalition government includes two settler-backed parties, both of whose leaders live in the West Bank and have pushed for the expansion of Jewish communities in occupied territory.

While all Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are considered illegal under international law and by much of the international community, Israel distinguishes settlements it has authorized from those it hasn’t. The vast majority of settlements are built by government order, but some unauthorized settlements, known as settlement outposts, have been established by ideologically- driven Israeli civilians with the hope that they will one day be authorized by the government. Israel occasionally cracks down on them, but it often retroactively legalizes them once they grow into communities.

There are 144 outposts in the West Bank, according to Israeli rights group Peace Now. More than 20,000 live in them, according to the Israel Policy Forum.

The settlements are illegal under international law. The Fourth Geneva Convention, which concerns civilian populations during a time of war, states in Article 49 that, “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

United Nations Security Council resolution 2334, which the United States did not veto, and was passed in December 2016, reaffirms this position. It states that settlements have “no legal validity” and constitute “a flagrant violation under international law.” The resolution references previous Security Council resolutions 242, 338, 446, 452, 465, 476, 478, 1397, 1515, and 1850. Of these, 465, 476, and 478 established that settlements have “no legal validity” in 1980.

Israel, along with a few legal analysts, disputes that settlements are illegal.

In 2012, the Israeli government, under the direction of Prime Minister Netanyahu, published the Levy Commission Report, which summarized this legal position. The report rejected the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the West Bank, arguing that the West Bank was never a legitimate part of any Arab state.

“Consequently, those conventions dealing with the administration of occupied territory and an occupied populations [sic] are not applicable to Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria (West Bank),” the report read.

This is not a position that any country or international forum has accepted.

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