Abandoned and given a number by officials – homes in the Israeli settlement of Ganim have been left by their owners in advance of the bulldozers. The Israeli pullout does not just affect the 21 settlements in Gaza, but according to the disengagement plan, four more are being dismantled at the same time in the West Bank.
There are more than 240 settlements here; the four which are going are in the north of the region – Ganin, Kadim, Homesh and Sanur, with all their Israeli settlers gone it leaves an area in the West Bank twice the size of the Gaza Strip under Palestinian control. On the face of it, the Jewish settler movenment is facing its biggest crisis since it began establishing communities in the wake of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. But elsewhere in the West Bank, settlements are not being abandoned, instead, communities such as Maale Adoumin are being enlarged with the encouragement of the Israeli government. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has made it clear that if Gaza and a few West Bank settlements are the price to pay for peace, it will be paid. But the Israeli leader said the more strategically important settlements and those that overlook large Israeli urban centres, will be strengthened and will remain under Israeli control. Security is one of the spurs for the creation of settlements, along with a strong religious belief that the land belongs to Jews. The wall or “West Bank Barrier” said to be being built to protect the settlements re-inforces the Jewish presence in the region, something which the Palestinians contest as a de facto annexation of the region. Increased international presure on the Israeli leadership to make concessions to the Palestinians has undoubtedly led to the current pullout, but a changing security map has played its part. The withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon in the North means deployment of Israeli soldiers is not so vital on that border. It would have left the four West Bank settlements currently being handed over vulnerable yet too expensive to protect. In the next few weeks Sharon will find himself in a quandary. Emotional news-footage of distraught settlers will damage his political standing with the Jewish right. But if the pullout goes relatively smoothly he could face greater US and EU pressure to give up yet more land.