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Israel's Kadima Reaches Coalition Deal With Labor

The leftist party's leader will get the Defense post. Olmert now has backing of 55 of 120 legislators.

April 28, 2006|From Reuters

RAMAT GAN, Israel — Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's centrist Kadima party made a coalition deal Thursday with the center-left Labor Party, a major step toward forming a government and pursuing plans for the West Bank's future.

Kadima won the most votes in Israel's March 28 general elections but needs the support of Labor and other smaller parties to gain a parliamentary majority.

After weeks of negotiations, Kadima and Labor officials signed an agreement at a resort in this Tel Aviv suburb.

"The Labor Party was from the start a strategic partner because the main purpose of the next government would be to try and set the permanent borders of Israel and settle as much as we can the relationship with the Palestinians," said Eyal Arad, a senior Kadima official.

With Labor, whose leader Amir Peretz is to become defense minister, and the seven-seat Pensioners Party, which signed on to the coalition Wednesday, Olmert has secured the support of 55 legislators in the 120-member parliament.

Olmert is also courting two ultra-Orthodox parties and a Russian nationalist faction in his bid to form a broad administration with more than 80 parliamentary seats; Israeli media said he was close to reaching a deal with the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which holds 12 seats.

He plans to evacuate settlements in some parts of the West Bank while strengthening major enclaves in other sections.

Olmert has pledged to set Israel's borders by 2010 with or without Palestinian agreement. Palestinians have said such a move would annex land they want for a state of their own in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. Israel withdrew from Gaza last year.

Israeli media quoted a clause from the coalition deal as saying that Jewish settlements would have to be "reduced," and that Israel would not negotiate with the Palestinians unless they "act appropriately soon."

Once the government is formed, Olmert plans to visit Washington in late May to present the outlines of his plan to President Bush, Israeli government sources said.

Olmert has said he will wait, but not for long, to see whether the Palestinian Authority, led by the militant group Hamas, will moderate its position calling for Israel's destruction and become a peace partner. But prospects of renewing negotiations appeared dim as Hamas has so far defied Israeli and international demands that it recognize Israel's right to exist.

Kadima and Labor reached their deal after weeks of talks over the Cabinet as well as security and economic policies, including the minimum wage.

Under the deal, Labor will receive seven Cabinet posts and head five ministries. Labor's Central Committee is expected to approve the deal Sunday, when it will vote faction leaders into the Cabinet posts.

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