World News

Factbox: Israeli settlements are first hurdle to peace talks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A 10-month Israeli moratorium on building housing in its settlements in the occupied West Bank expires at midnight Sunday, and the Palestinians have threatened to quit U.S.-brokered peace talks if construction resumes.

Following are facts about the settlements in the West Bank, which Palestinians seek for a state, and the moratorium:

- Some 300,000 Israelis live in more than 100 settlements. They have a separate infrastructure from adjacent Palestinian areas, and are protected by the army.

- Another 200,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem, also captured in 1967, or in areas of the West Bank that Israel annexed to Jerusalem after the war. Many of these settlements are now integral parts of the city.

- Some 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel has annexed East Jerusalem as part of its capital in a move not recognized internationally. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as capital of the state they intend to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

- The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem says settler activity covers 42 percent of the area.

- Many settlers living in enclaves nearest to the cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have cited cheaper housing costs as a motive. Others see themselves as pioneers exercising a biblical right of Jews to lands they call Judea and Samaria.

- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says Israel must freeze settlement activity in line with a 2003 U.S.- and European-backed peace “road map,” which also calls on Palestinians to curb violence against Israelis.

- In 2004, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon announced a plan to keep swathes of some six settlements in any future peace deal. No Israeli leader has deviated publicly from that proposal, which raises the likelihood that smaller settlements housing up to about 100,000 people could be abandoned.

- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the partial freeze on settlement expansion last November for a 10-month period, as a gesture to help U.S. efforts to renew peace talks. Israel suspended plans to build an estimated 2,000 homes, but work went ahead on 3,000 projects that were already under way.

- Israel says its moratorium expires on September 26, though the military order setting it in motion says it ends on September 30.

- A pro-settler majority in Netanyahu’s governing coalition has thus far blocked him from extending the moratorium with threats of a political crisis, but strong public support for peace talks could help him persuade cabinet members to agree to an extension. He also may count on centrist and left-wing lawmakers to back a further hiatus in settlement activity.

- Abbas, though keen to avoid appearing weak by striking another compromise on settlements, runs the risk of appearing still weaker if peace talks launched this month founder without any chance of achieving the two-state deal long supported by his Fatah movement.

- The World Court deems settlements illegal under international law, including the Geneva Conventions, a ruling that Israel rejects. The United States and European Union have commonly viewed the settlements as obstacles to peace and urged their cessation.

Reporting by Allyn Fisher-Ilan, Jeffrey Heller and Crispian Balmer; Editing by Kevin Liffey