Israeli settlement building in the West Bank represents a "creeping annexation" of Palestinian territory and is putting a future Palestinian state in jeopardy, according to a new UN fact-finding mission report.
The Jewish state has an obligation not to allow its citizens to move to the West Bank, which under international law is regarded as occupied territory, the report added.
The investigation, the first of its kind, concluded that the settlements exist for the exclusive benefit of Israeli Jews, and that they have created a system of segregation. The panel's chair, Christine Chanet, called on Israel to immediately stop all new building. Asma Jahangir, also on the panel, said the settlements "seriously impinge on the self-determination of the Palestinian people."
Israel stopped co-operating with the three-member investigatory panel, claiming that the inquiry was biased. The country has not issued visas to members of the panel, and has denied access to areas of the West Bank
Palmor Yigal, a spokesman for Israel's foreign ministry, said: "The only way to resolve all pending issues between Israel and the Palestinians â?¦ is through direct negotiations without pre-conditions. Counterproductive measures - such as the report before us - will only hamper efforts to find a sustainable solution."
The peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has in effect been frozen since 2010, when an Israeli moratorium on settlement building was lifted.
Both sides in the conflict say they are ready to resume talks, but the issue of settlement building has so far proved to be a serious impediment to face-to-face negotiations. There have been no direct talks between the two sides since September 2010.