Over the years, Israel has adopted a policy of building up its own settlements on occupied Arab land, while indiscriminately tearing down Palestinian homes in military operations -- actions that displace thousands of civilians and threaten the peace process.
Israel's settlement activity has been condemned by the international community, including Israel's top ally, the United States. It's mass demolitions have been branded collective punishment by Palestinians and rights groups.
Israel's West Bank settlements
Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank are a constant source of friction between Israel and Palestinians.
Who are the settlers?
Close to half a million Jews live on West Bank land seized by Israel in 1967, including Arab East Jerusalem. Some live in "outposts" not recognized by Israeli law but most are in more than 100 official settlements -- some with tens of thousands of residents -- under Israeli rule, including areas annexed to Jerusalem. Many, including some 200,000 living on occupied land that Israel says is part of Jerusalem, are motivated by cheaper housing costs. Others see themselves as pioneers exercising what they believe is a God-given right for Jews to lands they call Judea and Samaria.
Is it legal?
World powers view settlements as illegal under international law, including the Geneva Conventions. They also say Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem and surrounding areas is illegal. Israel demurs but agreed in 2003, under the U.S.-sponsored "road map" to peace, to "freeze all settlement activity" including building in existing settlements, which Israeli governments refer to as "natural growth". It also agreed to dismantle outposts, some just trailers, set up since 2001. In 2005, it forced all 8,500 settlers to leave the Gaza Strip. Settlement in the West Bank has continued to expand at a rate higher than the population growth inside Israel, according to peace movements.
What's the problem?
Palestinians, who number about 2.5 million in the West Bank and 1.5 million in Gaza, want the land that the settlers have claimed as part of a state and say settlements and the Israeli military protection they enjoy -- including the mammoth West Bank barrier being built -- disrupt their economy and threaten any prospect of real sovereignty. Palestinians fear settlements will isolate formerly Arab-ruled East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as their capital, from the West Bank and also split the West Bank into northern and southern zones.
Why doesn't israel stop settlement?
Israeli coalition governments depend on pro-settler parties who speak for a significant part of Israel's 7 million people. Governments have also argued at times that they lack powers to prevent settlers building and accuse Palestinian leaders of not honoring their own road map pledges on halting violence.
What is Har Homa / Jabal Abu Ghneim?
Known as Jabal Abu Ghneim by Palestinians and Har Homa by the Israelis, the settlement lies between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Israel annexed the area, part of the West Bank, and calls it a neighborhood of a united Jerusalem. Palestinians say the building aimed to separate Jerusalem from Bethlehem and the West Bank. The start of building of Jewish homes there in 1997 sparked a violent collapse in peace negotiations. A week after Bush's Annapolis conference re-launched talks in November, the Housing Ministry issued a tender to build more homes there.
How does it fit with negotiations?
Palestinians say Israel's hesitation in freezing settlement shows bad faith and undermines any negotiation. Israel proposes drawing a border with the Palestinian state to place most settlers' homes inside Israel and giving the Palestinians land in return elsewhere. Palestinian leaders say land swaps may be possible. But the issue will be particularly sensitive in negotiating the future status of Jerusalem.
Mass demolitions of homes
Here are some facts about Israel's demolitions since the start of a Palestinian uprising in September 2000.
* The Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem estimates that 28,000 Palestinians have been left homeless as a result of Israel's practice of demolishing Palestinian homes during the four-year intifada and upto March 2005.
* More than 2,000 buildings have been demolished by the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip since the start of the uprising, according to U.N. figures upto 2004. Scores more buildings have been demolished in the West Bank, many of them bulldozed during fighting in the Jenin refugee camp in 2002.
* The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) cares for over 18,000 people in the Gaza Strip who have lost their homes, some 12,600 of those are from the Rafah camp. Some are housed in tents before being found more permanent new accommodation.
* Palestinians have described the demolitions as an inhuman collective punishment of innocent civilians. Demolitions have also stirred international outrage and have been condemned by the United States, Israel's main ally.
* Israel says that it blows up or bulldozes homes to stop them being used by militants to carry out attacks. The army also demolishes the family homes of suicide bombers and gunmen.
* Figures from Israelis and Palestinians tend to differ widely because of the way both sides define a building.