Israel will be able to keep at least 180,000 settlers out of the 240,000 currently residing in the West Bank, with American blessing, a senior advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on Thursday.

This statement, by Dov Weissglass, comes shortly before the evacuation of 9000 settlers from the Gaza Strip and from four minor settlements in the northern West Bank, under the disengagement plan.

Washington had praised the plan, regarding it as a step towards resuming peace efforts between the Palestinians and the Israelis, although there is no mention of future withdrawals from other areas in the West Bank.

In exchange for the planned evacuation of the Gaza settlements, Israel managed to get U.S. recognition of four major settlement blocs in the West Bank for any final status agreement.

According to the Israeli plan, the Gush Etzion settlement bloc between Bethlehem and Hebron, Maale Adumim settlement bloc, in the Jordan Valley, the Ariel settlement bloc between Salfit and Nablus, Giv’at Zeev settlement bloc near Ramallah and the settlements around Jerusalem, are to become part of Israel permanently.

Keeping these settlements in place, local observers comment, will prevent any territorial contiguity for a future Palestinian state, which is contradictory to the Oslo agreement, signed in 1995 and the US-backed Road Map peace plan which states that a future Palestinian state must enjoy territorial contiguity.