From the viewpoint of the Israeli government and supporters of the settlement movement, the story starts thousands of years ago, when the West Bank was part of ancient Israel. Here's the text from the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs' website:
"Jewish settlement in the territory of ancient Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) is often presented as merely a modern phenomenon. In fact,Jewish presence in this territory has existed for thousands of years and was recognized as legitimate in the Mandate for Palestine adopted by the League of Nations in 1922, which provided for the establishment of a Jewish state in the Jewish people's ancient homeland.
"After recognizing 'the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine' and 'the grounds for reconstituting their national home,' the Mandate specifically stipulated in Article 6 as follows:
"'The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in cooperation with the Jewish Agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands not required for public use.'"
Jews continued to live in the West Bank under the rule of the Ottoman Empire and the British administration that controlled Palestine between 1923 and 1948, when the modern nation of Israel was established.
But with the armistice that ended the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948-49, the West Bank became part of Jordan. During its control of the West Bank, Jordan made the sale of land to Jews a capital offense. So, by the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, in which Israeli forces captured the West Bank, reportedly no Israeli citizens had lived there for nearly two decades [source: Myre and Kaplow].
After the 1967 war, the Israeli government didn't want to appear as if it was colonizing the Arab-majority West Bank [source: Grose]. But a group of would-be Israeli settlers decided to force the issue. In 1968, they drove from Jerusalem to the West Bank city of Hebron, where Jews had been driven away by Arab armies in 1929; checked into a hotel and didn't leave. As the group's leader, Rabbi Moshe Levinger, told an interviewer years later, the objective was to reclaim land that was part of biblical Israel: "Jews are entitled to have it," he said.
Then-Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol wasn't sure what to do about the squatters, since public opinion in Israel was divided. Eventually, the settlers struck a deal with their government, which provided $50 million to help them build the first settlement, Kiryat Arba, in the hills outside Hebron, complete with fences and watchtowers to protect residents. By 2016, it had grown to a community of 7,000 people [source: Englash].
Other settlers followed in droves, and their numbers steadily grew over the next 50 years. Though the Israeli government didn't start the settlement movement, over time it came to support it. The settlers became a political force that elected officials didn't want to challenge. On the few occasions when the government tried to shut down communities, the settlers wouldn't leave their new homes without a struggle. As a result, even moderate and liberal Israeli leaders allowed settlements to expand. Israeli conservatives, such as current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have gone further, and become active backers.