Questions and answers on Israeli settlements

Jerusalem (AFP) –


A Palestinian gunman opened fire at an entrance to the Israeli settlement of Har Adar in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday, killing three security personnel and wounding another.

Here are some key questions and answers on Israeli settlements:

- What are settlements? -

Settlements are Israeli villages, towns and even cities built on territory Israel seized during the Six-Day War of 1967.

Some 430,000 Israeli settlers currently live in the occupied West Bank, along with 2.6 million Palestinians.

A further 200,000 Israelis live in annexed east Jerusalem, along with at least 300,000 Palestinians, who want to make the sector the capital of their future state.

Israel also seized part of the Golan Heights from Syria and the Gaza Strip from Egypt and established settlements in both. It evacuated the Gaza settlements in 2005.

- What is their legal status? -

From the 1970s, Israel established a network of settlements throughout the occupied West Bank.

The Oslo accords of the 1990s divided the territory into Israeli- and Palestinian-governed zones meant to lay the ground for a future Palestinian state, but Israel continued to build and expand settlements there.

Palestinian violence has led to calls from some Israelis to build more settlements in response.

The United Nations and most of the international community see Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, as illegal.

Israel differentiates between those it has approved and those it has not, often called outposts.

Successive Israeli governments have invested billions of dollars in the settlements over the past 50 years.

- Who are the settlers? -

Many Israelis moved to the settlements in search of affordable housing.

The government encouraged them to move to cities such as Ariel, Maale Adumim and the ultra-Orthodox settlements of Beitar Ilit and Modiin Ilit.

There are also many national-religious hardliners who see living in the biblical lands of Judaea and Samaria as fulfilling a divine promise.

Hundreds of them live near the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, a holy site for both Jews and Muslims and a focal point of violence between Israelis and Palestinians

- How do Palestinians see settlements? -

Palestinians consider Israeli settlements a war crime and a major obstacle to peace.

The Palestinians want Israel to withdraw from all land it occupied in the Six-Day War and to dismantle all Jewish settlements, although they have accepted the principle of minor land swaps equal in size and value.

Israel rules out a full return to pre-1967 borders but has in the past expressed a willingness to pull out of some parts of the West Bank while annexing its largest settlement blocs which are home to the majority of the settlers in the territory.

However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads what is seen as the most right-wing government in Israeli history, has recently said he plans no "uprooting" of settlements.