Olmert stays firm on plan to withdraw
Olmert's plan follows that of ailing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sent his strongest signal yet that hard-line parties won't be welcome in the next government if his party wins next week's election, saying in an interview published Thursday that coalition partners must be on board with his plan to withdraw from most of the West Bank.
Olmert, whose Kadima Party is expected to cruise to victory Tuesday, wants to draw Israel's final borders by 2010 -- with or without a deal with the Palestinians. While holding a wide lead in opinion polls, Kadima is expected to still need help from smaller parties to form a majority coalition in the 120-seat parliament.
Olmert says he would prefer to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians but is ready to take unilateral action if this is impossible. Hard-line opponents say the go-it-alone approach, which would involve uprooting dozens of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, amounts to a surrender to Palestinian violence.
"I want to emphasize, so that no one doubts it: I intend to implement this plan. Anyone who is not interested in seeing this plan implemented will not be in my coalition. I do not intend to compromise on the details of the plan. This is the plan, and there is no other," Olmert told the Yediot Ahronot daily in an interview.
Doves vs. hawks
The comments gave an indication how Olmert's government would look if he wins the election. It appears increasingly likely that he will join forces with the dovish Labor and Meretz parties, while leaving the hawkish parties, including Likud, in the opposition.
Olmert also appeared to be sending a tough message to Avigdor Lieberman, leader of an increasingly powerful Russian immigrant party. Lieberman, a hard-line Jewish settler, has not ruled out joining an Olmert-led government but said he would not agree to further unilateral pullbacks.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, fed up with hard-line rebels in Likud, left the party last fall to form Kadima. Olmert quickly followed and was thrust into the party leadership when Sharon suffered a massive stroke in January.
Olmert's plan follows the unilateral approach devised by Sharon, who led Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last summer. With peacemaking frozen after several years of fighting, Sharon said pulling out of Gaza boosted security and helped guarantee a Jewish majority in areas under Israeli control.
What complicates things
The chances of renewing peace talks appear even more remote after the Islamic militant Hamas' victory in Palestinian legislative elections in January. Hamas, which has carried out dozens of suicide bombings in Israel, has refused international calls to renounce violence and recognize the Jewish state.
Veteran politician Shimon Peres, who is running as a Kadima candidate, said Thursday the party would prefer to reach a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians, although Hamas isn't a partner for peace. "Unilateralism is not our ideology or our first priority," Peres told reporters.
Under Olmert's plan, Israel's West Bank separation barrier would serve as the basis for a future border with the Palestinians. The plan would increase West Bank Jewish settlements on the Israeli side of the barrier and uproot tens of thousands of Israeli settlers living on the eastern side.
The plan falls well short of Palestinian visions for a future state encompassing all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip with east Jerusalem as the capital.
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