Here are the key appointments of the new 25-member Israeli cabinet approved by the Knesset on Thursday:

 

Prime Minister: Ehud Olmert, 60, is the closest political ally of the former hawkish prime minister, Ariel Sharon, who founded Kadima in November 2005. Olmert took over at the helm of the centre-right party after Sharon was felled by a stroke on January 4.

 

Known as a consummate politician, Olmert has served in the parliament for nearly three decades and was mayor of Jerusalem for 10 years.

 

Breaking with his past principles of refusing to consider giving up territory for peace with the Palestinians, Olmert now favours withdrawing from most of the West Bank, relinquishing Israeli control over most of the Palestinian population.

 

He envisages however to unilaterally separate from the Palestinians as he refuses to deal with their Hamas-led government.

 

He wants fix Israel's definite borders by 2010 and annex the largest West Bank settlements blocs to Israel while retaining Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s "eternal and undivided" capital. Olmert is a skilled speaker with a good command of English but does not have Sharon's appeal as a war hero.

 

Vice Prime Minister and Foreign Minister: Tzipi Livni, 47, is a rising star in Israeli politics and a protege of Sharon. Like Olmert, she followed Sharon to Kadima after he bolted the hardline Likud party to create a new centre-right political party.

 

A law graduate, Livni spent four years working at the Mossad intelligence agency. Since 2001, she has held a number of portfolios in Sharon's previous government, including the foreign ministry, justice, agriculture, housing, regional development and immigrant absorption.

 

Monday's appointment makes her the second most powerful player in male-dominated Israeli politics.

 

Defence Minister: Amir Peretz, 53, heads the centre-left Labour party. He is widely perceived as strong on social issues but inexperienced in military matters, making his new posting controversial.

 

Labour Party leader Peretz is the
new defence minister

Peretz immigrated with his family to Israel from Morocco in 1956, and settled in the Israeli working class town of Sderot, on the edge of the Gaza Strip. He earned his high school diploma, reached the rank of captain in the army and was elected to Israel's parliament on the Labour slate in 1988. In 1995, the father of four became head of the Histadrut Labour Federation.

 

Peretz often speaks of growing up in poverty and his rant against Israel's free market policies has earned him support among those hurt by the growing gap between rich and poor as well as the ridicule of others who see him as a throwback to a bygone era of big-brother socialism.

 

Peretz wrested leadership of the moderate Labour Party from Israel's elder statesman, Shimon Peres, in November.

 

Finance Minister: Avraham Hirchson, 65, is a member of Kadima. As a long-time friend of Olmert's, he is expected to keep Israel on free market path, perhaps with some modifications to redress the widening poverty in Israeli society since the Intifada in 2000. Hirchson followed Sharon into Kadima immediately after the party was established.

 

Formerly chairman of the parliament finance committee, Hirchson served as tourism minister and communications minister in the previous government. A lawmaker since 1992, Hirchson served as president of the March of the Living, an organisation that brings Jewish youth from around the world to visit Auschwitz.

 

Deputy Prime Minister: Shimon Peres, 82, a former prime minister and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 together with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, for their efforts towards peace which culminated in the Oslo Accords.

 

Peres followed Sharon to Kadima after Peretz ousted him as Labour leader. Feted abroad as a statesman, Peres has never won a national election.

 

In the new government, he will also serve as minister for the development of the Negev Desert and Galilee regions. The peripheral areas of Israel have long been neglected while politicians focused their investment efforts in central Israel.

 

Peres has said that these regions were also cast aside while successive Israeli governments poured billions of dollars into Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza - an enterprise he fully supported during his ministerial postings in various labour-led coalitions governments.