Originally encouraged by the government after Israel expanded its territory in the 1967 war with its Arab neighbors, settlements were meant to seed Israeli "pioneers" and to extend the Jewish state's defenses. Now numbering 121, their purpose and legality draw varying definitions and fuel relentless debate.
This Monitor briefing examines those definitions, explains the varying interpretations of international law, and looks at the trends in settlement growth over the past few decades.
What is a settlement?
A settlement is any residential area built over the Green Line, the 1949 cease-fire line established between the newly established Jewish state and its Arab neighbors. Today, Israelis live in several key areas that Israel took control of in the 1967 Six-Day War: the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Syria's Golan Heights.
As a key part of his Middle East policy, President Barack Obama has insisted that Israel freeze settlement expansion as a confidence-building gesture to help relaunch Middle East peace talks. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said he will not commence negotiations with the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unless he halts settlement growth first. Arab governments have also made a withdrawal to 1967 borders a prerequisite to making peace with Israel.
The main focus is on settlements in the West Bank, where Israeli pockets give the mainly Palestinian territory a Swiss-cheese look (see map). Palestinians and their supporters describe settlements as "facts on the ground" that will force the hand of future negotiators determining the borders of a Palestinian state.
How many are there?