JERUSALEM – Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Thursday that political rivals must agree to a plan to withdraw from large parts of the West Bank if they want to join a government led by his Kadima party — widely expected to win elections next week.
Olmert's comments in a newspaper interview gave the clearest signal yet of how the next Israeli government will look if Kadima wins Tuesday's elections. The centrist Kadima holds a wide lead in opinion polls, but will need help from smaller parties to form a majority coalition in parliament.
The tough conditions OImert laid out in the Yediot Ahronot daily signaled that he would like to join forces with the dovish Labor and Meretz parties and apparently has ruled out an alliance with the hawkish Likud Party.
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.
A central part of Olmert's platform is drawing Israel's final borders within four years, if necessary through unilateral West Bank withdrawals.
Olmert has said Israel's West Bank separation barrier, built to prevent suicide bombers from entering the country, will serve as the basis of the border. He wants to dismantle all settlements on the eastern side of the border, uprooting thousands of Jewish settlers from their homes.
"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 Yediot.
The plan falls well short of Palestinian visions for their future state. The Palestinians want all the West Bank and Gaza Strip for a future state with east Jerusalem as the capital.
Olmert told Israel Channel 10 TV in an interview late Wednesday that he will give the new Hamas government some time to renounce its violent campaign against Israel before he pushes ahead with unilateral moves. The Islamic militant group, sworn to Israel's destruction, has so far refused Olmert's conditions.
"I am not prepared to wait for years," he told Channel 10. "If we see there is no reasonable chance (for talks) we will take our fate in our own hands."
Olmert has indicated that he will hand over parts of Jerusalem under a final peace deal. Otniel Schneller, a Kadima candidate, gave new details about how the holy city will look like under the party's plan.
Schneller, a former head of the council of West Bank and Gaza settlements, listed a number of Arab neighborhoods Israel would hand over. Quoted in the Haaretz newspaper, he said the neighborhoods "are not part of historic Jerusalem, and in the future, when the Palestinian state is established, they will become its capital."
Olmert has said Israel would not relinquish control over the Old City, site of Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites. Still, until recently, talk of giving up any of Jerusalem was considered taboo in Israeli politics.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war, annexing the Arab neighborhoods and declaring the entire city its capital. The city's fate has been one of the greatest obstacles to a peace deal.
New polls published Thursday showed Kadima holding a commanding lead over Labor and Likud but sliding slightly. Olmert inherited the Kadima leadership after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a stroke in January that left him in a coma.
Kadima would get 36 seats in the 120-member Parliament, three less than in last week's survey, according to a Dahaf poll published in Yediot. Labor gained two seats to 21, and Likud dropped one seat to 14. The survey questioned 1,062 people Wednesday and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
One of the parties that could be a powerful force in a coalition government is Yisrael Beiteinu, headed by Lieberman, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union with a tough-guy image. The party is expected to get between 10-12 seats in parliament.
Israeli political analysts said Lieberman has been intentionally vague in his recent statements, possibly leaving the door open to moderate his views and join an Olmert government.
Meanwhile, the Israeli army killed two Islamic Jihad militants in the Gaza Strip on Thursday when they tried to plant a bomb along the border fence with Israel, the army and Palestinian security officials said. A third militant apparently fled, the army said.