Olmert says he will set Israel's borders in four years

Acting Premier Ehud Olmert, the frontrunner for the March 28 elections in Israel, has fleshed out a key election promise in vowing to set Israel’s permanent borders within four years if his Kadima party wins.

Olmert, interim leader of the ruling centrist party and an avid supporter of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last year, made the comments in an interview with the Jerusalem Post, extracts of which were published on Thursday.

Within four years, he intends to “get to Israel’s permanent borders, whereby we will be completely separate from the majority of the Palestinian population and preserve a large and stable Jewish majority in Israel”.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has been in a coma since suffering a massive stroke on January 4, created Kadima in November with the express intention of fixing the permanent borders of the Israeli state.

Olmert commands neither the same clout nor charisma as the maverick general-turned-statesman. Yet he is presenting himself as his heir, hoping to capitalise at the polls on public sympathy and admiration for Sharon.

Olmert said he envisaged the borders would include the West Bank settlement bloc of Gush Etzion, the “Ariel region” of settlements in the north, the “Jerusalem envelope”, Maale Adumim and the “Jordan River as a security border”.

The inclusion of east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want to make the capital of their promised future state, and plans to connect the holy city to Israel’s largest settlement of Maale Adumim, is likely to arouse Palestinian fury. Yet the list made some key omissions.

There was no talk of Kedumim-Karnei Shomron or Rehan-Shaked, mentioned by Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz last month, nor the flashpoint city of Hebron where around 500 Jewish settlers live in the midst of a Palestinian population.

The Jerusalem Post reported that Olmert would also go ahead in four years with the planned construction of 3 500 housing units on the edge of Maale Adumim, as part of plans to connect the settlement to the holy city.

The 60-year-old Olmert said he would wait a “reasonable” time to see whether Hamas would recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept previous agreements, with the radical movement preparing to form the next Palestinian government.

“If after a reasonable time passes it becomes clear that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is not willing to accept these principles, we will need to begin to act,” Olmert said.

Pullouts from the biblically important West Bank, where the vast majority of Israel’s 240 000 Jewish settlers live, is likely to arouse far more unease than the watershed pullout from Gaza.

Major divisions have emerged within Kadima over whether a new round of unilateral pullouts in the West Bank is preferable to setting the permanent borders through negotiations with the Palestinians.

An opinion poll on Thursday found that more Israelis than not—48,5% compared with 37%—opposed Kadima’s talk of a unilateral pullout from West Bank settlements.

Should he win, Olmert said had no intention of meeting moderate PA president Mahmud Abbas, with Kadima keen not to give in to charges by the right-wing of being soft on the perceived threat of a Hamas-led government.

“The PA is one authority.
The minute the dominant force in the PA is Hamas, then why meet?” the Jerusalem Post quoted him as saying.

“We do not meet as two graduates from the same high school. There can only be a reason for a meeting if it serves a political purpose. If the government is a Hamas one, what political purpose can it serve?”

The survey, carried out by the Haaretz newspaper and private Channel 10 television, also revealed that the number of undecided seats in the 120-member parliament had increased from 17 to 24.

The Haaretz-Channel 10 poll predicted that Kadima would corner 37 seats, with the centre-left opposition Labour 19, and the right-wing Likud party, led by former premier Benjamin Netanyahu, 17.

A rival survey published in the mass-selling Yediot Aharanot newspaper gave Kadima 37 seats, Labour 20 and Likud 14.—AFP

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