Immediately after the 1967 War, some extremist Israelis moved to establish Jewish colonies in the newly occupied territories. The first, created in Hebron in 1968, was led by an American-born Rabbi Meir Kahane and sanctioned by a Labor Party government. Israeli governments have justified construction of the settlements both for security and ideological reasons. The Labor Party, committed to Israeli military control of all land west of the Jordan River, justified settlements in the name of security. The right-wing Likud Bloc supported settlements to assert its claim of Jewish sovereignty over the entire Biblical-era "Greater Israel," and when a Likud government won power in 1977 settlement construction expanded dramatically.
As settler expansion increased, religious and nationalist extremists became a minority among the settlers themselves. Most moved to settlements in the occupied territories because government stipends keep mortgages low, amenities accessible, and commuting to jobs inside Israel easy because of a network of settler-only roads known as "bypass roads" for Jews only, designed to connect settlements to each other and to Israel without traversing Palestinian towns.
Since 1993, when the Oslo "peace process" began, the settler population has nearly doubled. More than 400,000 Israeli Jewish settlers now live in the occupied territories, 200,000 of them in Arab East Jerusalem. The Jerusalem settlers are particularly problematic, since Israel annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 war, and many Israelis deny that East Jerusalem is occupied territory at all.
All the settlements are in violation of international law. Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention specifically prohibits an occupying power from transferring any part of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies. In fact international humanitarian law prohibits any permanent change to an occupied land, including imposed demographic changes, that are not intended to benefit the local [occupied] population.
U.S. administrations have identified the settlements variously as "illegal," as "obstacles to peace," and as "unhelpful." President George W. Bush called for a settlement freeze in his speech on Middle East policy in April 2002, but has foresworn identifying the settlements as illegal or doing anything to encourage Israel to eliminate the settlements and return the settlers to homes inside Israel.