Article 49 of the Geneva Convention states, “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies."
This international legal principle renders all Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and West Bank illegal. Considered one of the imminent threats to the plausibility of a two-state solution, settlement construction in East Jerusalem and West Bank accelerated in 2009, aiming to rapidly change ground realities.
According to a March 2009 report by Peace Now, Israeli authorities plan to construct 73,000 new housing units in Jewish settlements across the occupied West Bank. Concurrently, the European Union Heads of Mission report from Dec 2008 details accounts of “Israel actively pursuing illegal annexation of East Jerusalem.” The report states that the number of tenders for new housing units increased by a factor of 40 in 2009 in comparison to 2007.
Expediting of Israeli settlement expansion and confiscation on Palestinian land in East Jerusalem has been confirmed by the EU Heads of Mission report on East Jerusalem. The report states that "Long-standing Israeli plans for Jerusalem, now being implemented at an accelerated rate, are undermining prospects for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and a sustainable two- state solution."
According the report, approximately 190,000 Jewish settlers, who constitute 40 percent of the total settler population, are presently living in East Jerusalem. Since the end of Annapolis conference in 2007, where settlement activity was regarded as a major impediment to the peace process, 3,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers have been approved for construction in East Jerusalem. An additional 2,500 are being reviewed. The report elaborates on "written evidence of compliance, and monetary help, of individual ministries to settler activities in the Old City."
As indicated by several news stories of house evictions and demolitions of houses in Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, Abu Dis in early 2009, settlement expansion are rapidly underway amidst these Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem.
According the EU report, approximately 280,000 Jewish settlers presently live in the occupied West Bank. Peace Now reports illustrate how Israeli plans to facilitate new settlement units in the West Bank would dramatically change the demography of the territory. The organization has collected evidence that the Israeli housing ministry has constructed a majority of settlements in the West Bank on private Palestinian land and not state land, as often claimed by the settlers and Israel. According to this report, private Palestinian land accounts for 32 percent of the land used for settlements.
The Ariel bloc, Karne Shomron bloc, Givat Zeev bloc, Gush Etzion bloc, and Modiin Ilit bloc are the most prominent clusters of settlements that continue to expand. Settlement blocs are essentially clusters of settlements in close proximity to each other. The ministry of housing plans indicate that 58,000 new units are waiting to be approved for 2009 while 15,000 have already been approved.
According to B’Tselem, between 1967 and the end of 2007, Israel expropriated land for the construction of 121 settlements in the West Bank. The ministry of housing classified them as "communities." Twelve settlements were built on land annexed by Israel in 1967 as part of Jerusalem, which remains occupied territory. An additional 100 settlements illegal under Israeli law, referred to as outposts, currently exist.
The Annapolis conference focused in part on a freeze of settlements in order to make an equitable two-state solution possible for the Palestinians. Such a freeze would involve the Israeli government halting construction of new settlements and preventing expansion of existing ones. It would also mean halt in expropriating additional Palestinian land for building bypass roads connecting settlers to Jerusalem.
The Obama administration initially supported these moves as a precursor to bilateral negotiations, and the Palestinian leadership is currently insisting that Israeli implement a settlement freeze before it engages in talks.