Kadima retains lead despite poll drop

Israeli interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima party has lost ground in separate opinion polls published in two leading Israeli dailies, but remains set to win the 28 March national elections.

    Olmert's Kadima party is widely expected to win the elections

    The polls in the mass circulation Yedioth Ahronoth and Maariv newspapers suggest the centrist Kadima's anticipated win would be by a smaller margin than previously expected, limiting its ability to form a stable coalition government with a minimal number of partners.

    The surveys found Kadima would win 36 or 37 seats in the 120-seat parliament, a drop of two or three seats from earlier surveys published by the newspapers.
    Olmert's plans to establish permanent borders for Israel by 2010 had earlier led him to express hopes of winning more than 40 seats, to give him the leverage necessary to push the proposal through.

    "In the framework of the plan, settlements in the West Bank will be consolidated into settlement blocs and the barrier, which will be Israel's future border," Olmert said in an interview published on Thursday in Yedioth Ahronoth.

    De facto border

    Construction of the Israeli security barrier began three years ago, with the stated aim of preventing Palestinian fighters from attacking Israeli cities. But the trenches, razor wire and concrete walls that make up the barrier are rapidly becoming a de facto border between Israel and the West Bank.

    "Anyone who is not interested in seeing this plan implemented - will not be in my coalition"

    Ehud Olmert,
    Interim Israeli Prime Minister

    Olmert made it clear in the interview that he has no intention of compromising on his plan to withdraw from parts of the West Bank.

    "Anyone who is not interested in seeing this plan implemented - will not be in my coalition," Olmert said.

    Olmert's comments suggest the interim prime minister has little doubt he will be winning the upcoming elections.

    His statements are likely to alienate the Likud party, led by hawkish former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has stated his opposition to further West Bank withdrawals. However, both the Labour and Meretz parties may be potential coalition partners for Kadima.

    Massive stroke
    Kadima was founded by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon shortly before he suffered a massive stroke on 4 January 2006 that left him comatose. Olmert consequently became interim Prime Minister, but Kadima has been steadily losing support since then.

    Sharon's Gaza withdrawal was
    popular among Israelis

    Sharon's summer withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements was popular among Israelis, but ripped apart the Likud Party he helped establish in the 1970s. Olmert's plan is meant to be a continuation of that pullout, and separate Israel and the Palestinians.

    Olmert told Channel 10 TV in an interview on Wednesday that, if elected, he would wait to see if Hamas, currently charged with forming the next Palestinian cabinet, will "moderate" its views and negotiate with Israel, before going ahead with the planned pullout.

    But if Hamas refuses to recognise Israel, accept past Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements and renounce violence, Israel will move to unilaterally draw its borders, Olmert said.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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