The Palestinians are not willing to continue (or reopen) negotiations unless Israel freezes the expansion of its settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem (see also Settlements). There are now 300,000 Israeli settlers living in the Occupied West Bank and 196,000 in Occupied East Jerusalem. They live in 121 settlements officially recognized by the Israeli government, and in more than a hundred so-called outposts, which have not been officially recognized. Although the build-up area occupied by the settlers is about 2.5 percent of the total area of the West Bank, no less than 45.5 percent of the area has restricted access for Palestinians. Israel has designated this territory for roads linking the settlements – exclusively for settlers’ use –, for military bases, agricultural land for the settlements, and security zones. This means that the remaining Palestinian area in the West Bank covers 54.5 percent of the West Bank.
Israel argues that ‘Israeli settlements on the West Bank have existed for many hundreds of years’, and cites examples such as Hebron (where a Jewish community already existed ‘under Ottoman rule‘). Neve Ya’acov and Gush Etzion were established during the British Mandate of Palestine. ‘The right of Jews to establish their homes in these areas is as valid today as always,’ states the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Moreover, it states: ‘Israel has consistently taken the position that the areas of the West Bank and Gaza cannot be considered as occupied territories under international law.’ Israel has always denied that the Fourth Geneva Convention which stipulates that ‘the occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own population into the territories it occupies’ is applicable to the West Bank since this had never belonged to Jordan by law, which had been in control of the West Bank between 1948 and 1967.
However, on 9 July 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague concluded unambiguously that the Fourth Convention is applicable ‘in any occupied territory in the event of an armed conflict between two parties to the Convention, irrespective of the question whether that territory lawfully was part of the other party (Jordan) before the conflict erupted’. The Court thus concluded that the Israeli settlements – as well as the Wall – have been established in breach of international law.