An Israeli TV station has said that the number of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank makes a two-state solution unrealistic and almost impossible to achieve. Israel's Channel Two said that there are now more than half a million settlers, all illegal under international law, living in the Palestinian state which was recognised by the United Nations last year, including occupied East Jerusalem.
The report comes at a time when US Secretary of State John Kerry is making intensive efforts to re-launch negotiations over a two-state-solution after a three-year hiatus. The slogan "two states for two peoples" is a standard component in both Israeli and Palestinian political speeches, but the facts on the ground suggest that events may preclude its use in the future.
The Channel Two report pointed out that some of the settlers have lived in the occupied territories longer than some have lived in Israel itself. Two hundred thousand of the settlers live in East Jerusalem which the Palestinians are demanding as the capital of an independent state.
The statistics mean that one in every 10 Jewish Israeli citizens lives beyond the official 1949 Armistice ("Green") Line in land occupied by Israel in 1967. In 2012, the number of illegal settlers increased by 4.7 per cent, while their settlements increased in size by 8,000 acres.
In the West Bank and Jerusalem, there are 150 settlements recognised by the Israeli government and 100 that are classified as illegal even under Israeli law, as well as settlement enclaves in and around Jerusalem.
Israel insists that it will keep four large settlement blocks in the heart of the West Bank in any final agreement with the Palestinians as part of a series of "land swaps". There appears to be a general understanding, though, that some of the smaller settlements would have to be evacuated if a comprehensive peace deal is to be agreed.
In Israel, there is a belief that 70,000 settlers will be forced to leave their homes in the event of a comprehensive agreement, which will cost the Israeli government around 42 billion shekels, or 10 per cent of its total budget, in relocation costs.