What you need to know about the Israeli settlements

A January 26, 2017, photo of new apartments under construction in the Israeli settlement of Har Homa.

(CNN)Four issues have dominated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the most difficult to solve and the most complex to handle: the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees (and their right of return), borders, and settlements.

Recent announcements by the Israeli government of the expansion of West Bank settlements, made in the period since Donald Trump became US President, have put settlements back in the spotlight. The announcements come just weeks after the UN Security Council Resolution declared that settlements had "no legal validity."

What are settlements?

    Settlements are Israeli cities, towns and villages in the West Bank and the Golan Heights. (We will deal with East Jerusalem a bit later.) They tend to be gated communities with armed guards at the entrances. Why are they settlements and not simply Israeli residential areas? Because Israel is widely considered to be an occupying force in the territories. It is land that Palestinians, along with the international community, view as territory for a future Palestinian state.
      Israeli soldiers stand guard blocking an entrance to the Jewish settlers zone of Hebron's Tel Rumeida neighbourhood, on September 18, 2016.

      Why are the West Bank and East Jerusalem considered occupied territory?

      Israel began its occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967 during the Six-Day War. Seeing a military buildup in the surrounding Arab countries, Israel launched a preemptive strike against Egypt, after which Jordan, in turn, attacked Israel. Israel annexed East Jerusalem shortly thereafter, unifying the city under Israel's authority. But Israel has never annexed the West Bank, part of which remains under military law.
      Decisions in the West Bank are carried out by the Israeli military, not the civilian government. The Israeli military makes decisions on land use, freedom of movement of Palestinians, home demolitions, and many other areas.
        Before 1967, the West Bank and East Jerusalem were under Jordanian occupation. Jordan annexed the territory in 1950, but few countries recognized the annexation as legal. Jordan renounced its claim to this territory in 1988, recognizing the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) as the representative of the Palestinian people.
        Israelis who support the settlement movement, among a few others, dispute that the West Bank is occupied territory. They refer to the West Bank as Judea and Samaria, which is its biblical name. There are others who support this belief, including evangelical Christians. This opinion opposes the international consensus that the West Bank is occupied territory.

        Where are the settlements?

        There are 126 Israeli settlements in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem), according to the September 2016 report from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics. Geographically, these settlements are all across the West Bank.
        The West Bank is broken down into Areas A, B, and C, according to the Oslo Accords, a series of peace agreements made in the 1990s.
        Area C makes up approximately 60% of the West Bank. This area is entirely under Israeli control. Most of the settlements are in Area C.
        Area B is under joint control between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and comprises approximately 20% of the West Bank. Area A is under full control of the Palestinian Authority. This area makes up the final 20%.
        Most settlers live in what are called the "settlement blocs." These are areas that have a high number of Jewish settlements. The three main blocs are Ariel in the north, Ma'ale Adumim near Jerusalem, and Gush Etzion in the southern West Bank. Other settlements are outside of these blocs.

        Who are the settlers?

        This is a very broad question, and requires a fair amount of generalization.
        According to the YESHA Council, which is the organization that represents West Bank settlements, there are approximately 420,000 settlers in the West Bank.
        Each of these people has their own reasons for choosing to live in the West Bank, but we can break them down into four broad categories:
        1. Religious-National Settlers: The religious-national settlers tend to live in the West Bank for ideological reasons. The West Bank has thousands of years of Jewish history and many Jewish holy sites, and religious-national settlers believe these have always been the Land of Israel, as promised to the Jewish people in the Old Testament.
        In the Book of Exodus in the Torah, as in the Old Testament, verse 23:31 states "I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River. I will give into your hands the people who live in the land, and you will drive them out before you."
        According to scripture, some of these holy sites include: the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are buried; Shiloh, where the Ark of the Covenant rested before it was carried into Jerusalem; and the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus.