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Acting Prime Minister Olmert: 'The Goal Is Permanent Borders For Israel With Jewish Majority; Preferably By Agreement If Not, Then 'By Every Way'

Palestinians Vote In General Election With Hamas Expected To Challenge Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah

Roadmap Peace Process Or Intifada III?

Acting PM Ehud Olmert

In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, tens of thousands of Palestinian are now voting in an historic election. For the first time, Hamas is running and challenging the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction. Hamas is a terror organization whose charter calls for the extermination of Israel. The implications are enormous for the future of the Roadmap peace process. Hours before the Palestinians went to the polls, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared that he was ready to give up territory in order to establish a permanent border with a Jewish majority. If possible by negotiation, if not Israel would do it by another way.

As Palestinians go to parliamentary elections, Israel's Ehud Olmert tells Palestinians: 'Either we negotiate permanent borders or I'll do it 'every way'.

In his first major address, Israel's Acting Prime Minister spelled out his game plan. He would follow in the footsteps of Ariel Sharon who remains in a coma at Hadassah without any sign of recovery from his massive stroke. Israel's permanent border must include a Jewish majority that provides security with Jerusalem its capital and this would mean withdrawing from densely populated Palestinian areas. The only peace proposal on the table was the Roadmap. Olmert did not speak of another 'unilateral disengagement' like Gaza but this is implied if the Palestinians do not chose the peace process.The Acting PM spoke just hours before Palestinians went to a general election in which, the terror organization Hamas is running for the first time. Hamas, which calls for Israel's destruction, is expected to challenge current leader Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction. Olmert did not say if he would negotiate with a Palestinian leadership that includes Hamas. However, now facing an Israeli election on March 28th, Olmert is not likely to agree unless Hamas undergoes a metamorphosis by renouncing terrorism and gives up its weapons. Today, the Palestinians are voting which way they want to go, a decision complicated by the corruption rampant in Fatah.

Israel's Crowded Center: Earlier this week, Likud's Bibi Netanyahu and Labor's Amir Peretz also presented their platforms to the Herzliya conference. All the politicians have moved to the center of Israel's political stage that Ariel Sharon captured before taking ill. Netanyahu spoke of giving up West Bank territory but not unilaterally. He says there must be 'no free lunches'; the Palestinians would have to reciprocate. But in softening his stance, the Likud leader did not refer to evacuating settlements. In moving closer to the center by hardening his position, Labor's Peretz talked about combating terrorism and no return of Palestinian refugees to the Jewish state. But on Jerusalem, Peretz stands for partitioning the capital. Palestinian villages around the capital with their 230,000 residents and $200 million dollar welfare budget would not be an Israeli responsibility. In addition, Peretz would set up a fund to compensate Israeli settlers who wish to leave their West Bank homes immediately.Poverty & Politics: The latest figures showing a million and a half Israelis are living below the poverty line is a strong plank for the Peretz platform. The former union boss is calling for a $1,000 monthly minimum wage. Olmert, who is also Finance Minister, rejects any return to government handouts; instead, Olmert will soon unveil a crash program to cope with poverty. But overall, Peretz could be in a strong position, to boost his rating by garnering support from low income wage earners who do not make $1,000 a month.

The latest poll before Olmert's address:

Kadima 39
Labor 22
Likud 15
Shas 10
National Union 9

Palestinians are now voting; Israelis will go the polls in another two months. If the Likud's Netanyahu is now talking about giving up territory, the Israeli era of ideology is definitely over. The name of the game is political pragmatism - which leader can get the best deal for Israel with the Palestinians. Will the Palestinians also arrive at a comparable conclusion - that they must also be ready to compromise in order to get their Palestine? If so, the way could be open to the Roadmap vision of a Jewish and a Palestinian state. If not, Intifada III could be only a matter of time.

David Essing

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