JERUSALEM (Reuters) - U.S. envoy George Mitchell hoped for a deal on a Jewish settlement freeze in talks on Tuesday with Israeli and Palestinian leaders as part of a drive by Washington to revive Middle East peace talks.
Following are facts about the settlements Israel has built in the territory it captured in a 1967 Middle East war now at the heart of a rare rift between Israel and the United States.
* Some 300,000 Israelis live in more than 100 settlements Israel has built in the West Bank, and another 200,000 live in Arab East Jerusalem, areas home to some 2.5 million Palestinians seeking independent statehood. Israel has annexed East Jerusalem as part of its capital in a move not recognised internationally.
* 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 demands a freeze in settlement construction before peace talks, stalled since December, may resume. Abbas cites a 2003 U.S. and European-backed peace “road map” that calls for a stop to settlement building alongside parallel steps by the Palestinians to curb violence against Israel.
* Benjamin Netanyahu, a right-wing prime minister who took office in March backed by a coalition of pro-settler parties who want Israel to keep much of the West Bank under any peace deal, says he would not build new settlements but wants to expand some existing enclaves to accommodate what he calls “natural growth” of the population.
* The World Court deems settlements as illegal under international law, including the Geneva Conventions, a ruling Israel disputes. The United States and European Union have commonly viewed the settlements as obstacles to peace and urged their cessation.
* Netanyahu insists the settlements are not the “heart” of the conflict, and wants Palestinians to recognise Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state before they may achieve statehood. Palestinians reject this demand saying they have already recognised Israel and should not have to define its ethnicity.