JERUSALEM – The European Union's move to label goods produced in Israeli settlements is the latest expression of international disapproval of one of the country's most controversial policies.
The Palestinians view Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem as a major obstacle to reaching any two-state solution, saying they carve up lands expected to form a future Palestinian state. Virtually the entire international community, including the United States, views the settlements as illegal or illegitimate.
Israel has long dismissed the criticism, saying most settlement growth is in areas it expects to keep in any future peace agreement and that the issue should be resolved in peace talks along with other core issues like security and borders. Many Israelis want to keep the West Bank and east Jerusalem -- territories captured from Jordan in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war -- citing security concerns as well as the deep religious significance of the territories for devout Jews.
The settlements are now home to more than 570,000 Israelis, according to the Israeli anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now. They range from small wildcat outposts on West Bank hilltops to fully developed towns with shopping malls, schools and suburban homes. Many Israelis choose to live in settlements for economic and quality-of-life reasons.
Some 2.2 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, with another 300,000 in east Jerusalem.
The European Union's decision Wednesday to begin labeling products originating in the settlements has infuriated Israel, which says the move is unfair and discriminatory, and has linked it to a growing international boycott movement.
A look at the growth of Israeli settlements over the years:
— In 1972 there were just over 10,000 Israeli settlers, with 1,500 living in the West Bank and the rest in east Jerusalem.
— Twenty years later, ahead of the Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians, there were 231,200 Israelis living in the territories, with 105,400 in the West Bank and 125,800 in east Jerusalem.
— At the end of 2000, when the second Palestinian uprising began, over 365,000 Israelis lived in the territories with more than 198,000 in the West Bank and some 167,000 in east Jerusalem.
— In 2008, the year before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office, over 474,000 Israelis were living in the two territories, with about 281,000 in the West Bank and some 193,000 in east Jerusalem.
— Some 570,700 settlers now live in the territories, according to the latest Peace Now figures from the end of 2014, with 370,700 in the West Bank and 200,000 in east Jerusalem.