As of May 2009, there were 280,000 Israelis living in 121 settlements in the West Bank, and 190,000 in East Jerusalem. Settlements range in their character from farming communities to suburbs to frontier villages, and, in the case of East Jerusalem, city neighborhoods.
The United Nations and other major international bodies consider the settlements a violation of international law, though this is disputed by Israel and some legal scholars.
Under Israeli law, West Bank settlements must meet specific criteria to be legal; unauthorized communities which do not meet these criteria exist and are called illegal outposts.
Israeli policies toward these settlements have ranged from active promotion to removal by force, and their continued existence and expansion since the 1970s is one of the most contentious issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The three largest settlements, Modi’in Illit, Maale Adumim and Betar Illit, are cities with over 30,000 residents each. Some settlements, such as those of Gush Etzion, are rebuilt on the sites of modern Jewish communities destroyed in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War or prior conflicts.
Israeli settlements are Israeli civilian communities in the Israeli-occupied territories (lands that were captured from Egypt, Jordan, and Syria by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War).
Such settlements currently exist in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
The latter two areas are governed under Israeli civil law but are considered by the international community to be under military occupation.
Eighteen settlements formerly existed in the Sinai Peninsula and twenty-one in the Gaza Strip. All were abandoned as part of Israel’s withdrawal from these areas in 1982 and 2005, respectively.
The establishment and expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been described as “having no legal validity” by the UN Security Council in resolutions 446, 452, 465 and 471.
The European Union considers the settlements to be illegal, and an April 21, 1978 opinion of the Legal Adviser of the Department of State to the United States Congress on the legal status of Israeli settlements concluded that “[w]hile Israel may undertake, in the occupied territories, actions necessary to meet its military needs and to provide for orderly government during the occupation, for the reasons indicated above the establishment of the civilian settlements in those territories is inconsistent with international law.”