Construction of new settlements and expansion of existing settlements were already increasing at the time the Oslo process began in 1993. The settler population was growing by about 10 percent a year, even during the Labor party government of the late Yitzhak Rabin. In fact, the years that Rabin's government was in power saw the largest expansion of the settlements since they began in 1968.
In 1998 Israel began construction on a new settlement named Har Homa, on a West Bank hillside known as Jabal Abu-ghoneim lying between Jerusalem and Beit Sahour. It caused enormous opposition, because it was the final link in a ring of settlements surrounding East Jerusalem, that together served to cut off access from Arab Jerusalem to the West Bank. It led to new UN debates about the settlements as a violation of the Geneva Conventions. But the protests led nowhere, building continued, and by mid-2002 Israeli Jewish residents were filling the gleaming white stone, ultra-modern settlement apartments.
From the beginning of Oslo until 2002, the settler population almost doubled. While the U.S.-backed Mitchell Plan of 2001 called for a freeze in settlement construction as a "confidence-building measure" by Israel, the expansion continued. Currently the Israeli settler population in the occupied territories has topped 400,000-about 200,000 in the West Bank, 200,000 in Arab East Jerusalem, and about 6,000 in the Gaza Strip. In spring 2002, the Israeli Peace Now organization documented 34 new settlements that had been established during the Sharon government's term.
The continued existence, and expansion, of the settlements, remains an enormous obstacle in reaching Israeli-Palestinian peace. They violate the Geneva Conventions, which specifically prohibit the transfer of anyone from the occupying country to the occupied territory. Further, the settlements, and the settlers-only or "bypass" roads that connect them and link them to cities inside Israel, divide the territories into separate cantons surrounded by Israeli troops, and prevent the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. These roads, most built during the Oslo period, have been constructed on confiscated Palestinian land, and funded with United States tax money.