JERUSALEM – Israeli President Moshe Katsav formally chose acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Thursday to form Israel's next government, and Olmert said he would quickly put together a coalition committed to carrying out his West Bank withdrawal plan.
During the campaign, Olmert said he planned to pull Israel out of much of the West Bank, while strengthening its control of major settlement blocs and drawing the country's final borders by 2010. The withdrawal will be part of the new government's written program, Olmert said.
"These plans will be the basis of the government's operations," he said. "I believe this is also known to all the potential partners and there is no doubt we will act in this way."
Katsav said 78 members of Israel's 120-member parliament recommended that Olmert be tapped as the next prime minister. Olmert's centrist Kadima Party won 29 seats in last week's parliamentary elections, the most of any party.
"I am honored to announce at this time that I decided to give lawmaker Ehud Olmert the responsibility of forming the government," Katsav said at a joint news conference with Olmert.
Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI is considering visiting Israel in early 2007, former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres said Thursday after meeting with the pontiff.
Peres renewed an invitation, first made last year by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "He indicated that he may do it in the first part of next year," Peres told a news conference.
Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls confirmed the invitation had been extended but gave no details on Benedict's response.
Olmert, who has served as acting prime minister since Sharon suffered a stroke Jan. 4, has nearly a month to try to put together a governing coalition of at least 61 lawmakers. If he fails, he can ask for a two-week extension.
"I ask that you all be patient," Olmert said, "but I promise we will try to do this as quickly as possible."
He said he would try to include a cross-section of parties from across Israel's political spectrum in his government. "It is not easy to form a coalition that is stable, that enjoys a secure majority that can last a full term," he said.
Katsav, Israel's ceremonial president, met in recent days with representatives of all the parties in parliament. No one recommended another candidate for prime minister, he said.
Katsav said that he wanted Olmert to form a broad coalition.