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ALL ABOARD COALITION TRAIN!

Unofficial Exit Polls Indicate Ehud Olmert's Kadima Party Will Win Israeli Election

Olmert Will Have Wide Range OF Potential Coalition Partners To Choose From

Despite Olmert's Pitch For Another Unilateral Withdrawal On West Bank, It Is Highly Unlikely U.S. Will Support It In Foreseeable Future

Ehud Olmert

If the unofficial exit polls hold up, Ehud Olmert and His Kadima party will win most seats in the Israeli election. After consulting with all the parties, which enter the Knesset, state President Moshe Katzav will then call on the party leader with the best chance of forming a coalition government with a Knesset majority. Although not obligated to select the party with the most seats, every Israeli president has always selected the party leader with most seats.

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Regardless of his election victory, Ehud Olmert will be hog-tied when it comes to implementing his unilateral 'Convergence' scheme on the West Bank. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is apparently heading for a steady globalization.

The international community in general and the U.S. in particular have kept mum over Olmert's plan for the further withdrawal. As long as the U.S. does not abandon the Roadmap, neither will Olmert. All his talk about the unilateral pullback will be put on hold until he gets the green light from Washington.

Sharon - Olmert's Mentor: In carrying out his unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip and four West bank settlements, Sharon nailed down a Bush commitment about not returning Palestinian refugees to Israel and no going back to the 1949 (1967 lines). There is no way of knowing, but it is unlikely that even Sharon would have carried the Gaza pullout without U.S. approval. What will Olmert get from America for a further withdrawal? What guarantee does Olmert have that the rest of the world will sit back and acquiesce in Israel's consolidating of its control over what he has called the 'townships' on the West Bank?Then again, the new Palestinian leader Ismail Haniyeh has started sweet-talking about a new-look Hamas. His pitch for a more moderate image is obviously a must. Now in the driver's seat Haniyeh is in dire need of foreign funding to pay salaries and provide vital services in the Palestinian areas. Hamas can also be expected to start issuing vague statements about not really wanting to exterminate Israel etc. Although most Israeli politicians will reject the marketing of a new 'Hamas Lite', it will provide grist for the foreign school of 'Giving Hamas a chance'. But even though Olmert's unilateral retrenchment may be 'pie in the sky' for some time to come, it has helped him win the election because most voters are ready to buy it rather than the old hat ideologies of hard line Likud and Oslo fixated Labor. It may only be a matter of time before Olmert sings Sharon's old refrain: 'What you see from here in the PM's office is different from what you outside'. If this analysis is accurate, it will impact on the coalition horse-trading that is about to unfold.

All Aboard the Coalition Train: If the exit polls are on target, Olmert can count on getting the call from state President Moshe Katzav to try and form the new government. Olmert has many options open for building his coalition and the name of the game now is to clamber aboard the coalition train before it leaves the station. Otherwise, the also-rans are doomed to the political wilderness. Olmert would seem to have a myriad to possible partners. If the political center is located between the right and the left wings, Olmert can turn in both directions for his coalition partners. If Olmert is talking about another unilateral pullout, Labor on the left is an obvious choice. The demand by Labor party leader Peretz for a new socio-economic deal is a matter of squaring it with economic growth. The religious parties Shas and Torah-Judaism will also be in line, eager to restore budgets for their educational institutions that were slashed by Finance Minister Netanyahu. But Olmert can also turn to the right as well. Even the Likud is a possibility but unlikely with Netanyahu at the helm. There is so much bad blood between the two that Olmert would be loath to bring him into his government. Olmert officials hint quietly that without Netanyahu, Likud is also an option. There has also been rumbling in the party about dumping Netanyahu if Likud flops in this election. Also on the right, Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beitenu has proved he is a factor to be reckoned with. In fact, Lieberman is emerging as the strongest right-wing leader in Israel today. Olmert can also count on the Retired Pensioners party that may crawl over the 2% threshold of votes required to enter the Knesset.

Footnote: If during the election campaign the various parties sharpened their differences in order to attract specific voters, this will not be the case inside the coalition negotiations. Get ready for a lot of public spin by the politicians but as consultations continue, the potential partners will start smoothing over their differences with Kadima as they make their bid to get into the new coalition government.

David Essing

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