Projections show Olmert winning Israeli election
JERUSALEM – Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel will seek negotiations with the Palestinians but act on its own if necessary to draw final borders in a victory speech after exit polls showed his centrist Kadima Party headed for a win in Israeli elections Tuesday.The projections had Kadima capturing fewer parliament seats than expected but was forecast to have enough to form a ruling coalition that would support Olmert’s plan to withdraw from much of the West Bank and set Israel’s borders by 2010.In the speech, Olmert said he was ready for new peace talks and was prepared to make painful compromises such as uprooting some Jewish settlements in the West Bank and allowing Palestinians to have a state.”In the coming period, we will move to set the final borders of the state of Israel, a Jewish state with a Jewish majority,” Olmert said. “We will try to achieve this in an agreement with the Palestinians.”Olmert also praised his mentor, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, whose vision has shaped the campaign even though has lain in a coma for nearly three months.Olmert has said he would govern only with parties that accept his program, and projections showed a center-left coalition capturing 61 to 65 seats in the 120-member parliament. The hawkish parties fell far short of their plan to win enough seats to block Olmert’s program.As Israel held its election, the Palestinian parliament approved a new Cabinet led by the Hamas militant group, which refuses to renounce violence or recognize Israel’s right to exist.Incoming Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told Al-Jazeera television that he opposed Olmert’s plan. “Such a plan definitely won’t be accepted by the Palestinian people or the Palestinian government,” he said.Allies of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate from the Fatah Party, called for immediately renewing talks on the internationally backed “road map” peace plan under the auspices of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which he heads.”We’re ready to go into direct and immediate negotiations to implement the road map,” said Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh.Olmert has said he supports the road map but will not wait indefinitely for a peace deal and would move unilaterally after a reasonable period of time. Israeli officials have ruled out new talks while Hamas remains in charge.With 50 percent of votes counted, Kadima was winning 29 seats, Labor 21 and Likud 12, Israeli media reported.That was in line with TV projections which showed Kadima winning 29 to 32 seats, fewer than the 34 seats projected in recent polls. “Kadima has won today. The next prime minister is Ehud Olmert,” said Roni Bar-On, a Kadima legislator.The leader of the largest party is traditionally asked first to try to form a ruling coalition. Whether Olmert chooses to form a government with dovish parties or more hardline factions could determine his ability to carry out his plan.Olmert could form a coalition with Labor, the dovish Meretz and a party that advocates pensions for retirees, or he could add the ultra-Orthodox Shas or United Torah Judaism parties to his government.Olmert, the vice prime minister and former mayor of Jerusalem, took over the party after Sharon suffered a devastating Jan. 4 stroke and immediately became the favorite to win the elections. Much of Kadima’s campaign was built around Sharon, Israel’s most popular politician, and his legacy resonated with many voters.”It was important for me to vote, to continue the way of Sharon,” said Rina Golan, 65, who voted for Kadima.Huge pictures of Sharon adorned Kadima’s campaign headquarters; there was none of Olmert. Shortly after exit polls were announced, a tape of Sharon’s voice boomed from loudspeakers, and video clips of him were played on a TV screen.The TV projections gave Labor 20-22 seats, a strong showing by new party leader Amir Peretz, who ran on a social platform advocating a higher minimum wage and guaranteed pensions for the elderly.”The Labor Party has regained its credibility,” said Labor lawmaker Colette Avital.Likud, which had dominated Israeli politics for decades, was crushed, dropping from the 38 seats it won in the last election to 11 or 12 seats, according to the exit polls. Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister and current party head, warned that further unilateral withdrawals would bring Hamas closer to Israel.”We have no doubt that the Likud suffered a hard blow,” Netanyahu told his party activists. He blamed Sharon, who bolted Likud to form Kadima, for leaving behind “a broken and shattered party.”A strong majority of voters turned away from Likud and Labor, the only two parties that have ever ruled Israel, to vote for the new Kadima and fringe parties. Though other attempts to create a strong centrist party in Israel have failed, analysts said Sharon’s personal popularity gave Kadima its edge.Two marginal parties posted strong showings in the exit polls.Israel Beitenu, a party aimed at Israeli immigrants from the former Soviet Union, would like to redraw Israel’s borders to put fewer Arabs and more Jews inside. It posted a double-digit showing as expected, with 12-14 seats. The party has two lawmakers in the outgoing parliament.A pensioners’ party appeared to be the surprise protest vote of the election taking as many as eight seats, the exit polls showed. The party, headed by former Mossad spymaster Rafi Eitan, who oversaw a sensational espionage operation against the U.S. in the 1980s, was not represented in the last parliament. Kadima said this party was a natural coalition partner for Olmert.The issues at stake in the election – the future of relations with the Palestinians and Israel’s presence in the West Bank – were momentous, but the turnout, 63.2 percent, was the lowest ever for an Israeli parliamentary election.The voter apathy in Israel’s sixth election since 1992 was attributed partly to Kadima’s wire-to-wire dominance during the campaign and partly to Israeli’s disillusionment with rampant government corruption and party switching by veteran politicians that was viewed as purely opportunistic.Vail, Colorado
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