kadima 298 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister-designate Ehud Olmert intends to complete a unilateral withdrawal from most of the West Bank by the time US President George W. Bush finishes his term in November 2008, sources close to him revealed on Sunday.
The new date cuts two years from the deadline Olmert set for himself in interviews ahead of the election, when he said he wanted the withdrawal completed by the time his term ended in November 2010. Olmert's associates revealed the date in coalition talks with Likud representatives at Ramat Gan's Kfar Hamaccabiah Hotel and later confirmed it to the press.
"In Olmert's victory speech on Election Day, he said he would try to reach agreement with the international community, led by the United States and Bush, which means by the time Bush's term ends in 2008 or at least by when he leaves office in January 2009," a member of Kadima's negotiating team said.
The Likud's negotiating team also tried to find out whether Olmert was seeking international recognition for the new borders or merely the world's backing for withdrawing. The Kadima team told them it was the latter, but Olmert himself said in a weekend interview with Newsweek that he would seek US recognition for the borders if he sets them unilaterally.
Following the talks, the Likud delegation said there was no chance that the party would join the coalition and that the Likud Knesset faction would convene Monday to confirm the decision. MK Limor Livnat said that Kadima wanted the Likud in the government to offset the hefty socioeconomic demands of Labor and Shas, but that Olmert's diplomatic policies made joining the government unacceptable.
Party chairman Binyamin Netanyahu had instructed his representatives to use the talks to seek new details about Olmert's convergence plan. During the talks, Olmert aide Ovad Yehezkel questioned whether the Likud had come to the talks in good faith.
"The Likud's approach was hostile from the start," a Kadima negotiating team member said. "They came to argue and to prove that the convergence plan was bad. They wanted to tell the public they had caught us doing something wrong."
The talks were much more positive with Labor, Shas and Israel Beiteinu. Officials from all three parties said significant progress was made on the first day of negotiations, and Shas negotiating team chairman David Glass predicted that an agreement with Kadima could be reached by the time Pessah ends in 10 days.
"I was pleasantly surprised, and I could tell that they are genuine about wanting us in the coalition," Glass said. "The talks were very constructive and from the good atmosphere, we could tell that we will be able to reach an agreement soon."
Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef will have to decide whether he can justify joining a government set to withdraw from most of the West Bank, after opposing disengagement from the Gaza Strip. Glass said that security officials, and possibly Olmert himself, would be invited to explain the plan to Yosef.
Talks with Israel Beiteinu focused on finding a solution for the thousands of Israelis who are not permitted to marry by the rabbinate. Shas officials said they recognized the urgency of the problem and that they believed a solution could be found within Halacha.
While Shas and Israel Beiteinu were pleased to hear from Kadima that the convergence plan would not be mentioned explicitly in the coalition guidelines, former Justice Minister David Liba'i, head of the Labor negotiating team, said the party would object to unclear diplomatic guidelines.
Liba'i said that Labor and Kadima agreed on diplomatic and security issues and on the need for political reform. He said the sole remaining problem between them was on the socioeconomic issue. The Kadima team asked Liba'i to return to the negotiating table on Tuesday with numbers explaining how to fund a hike in the minimum wage.
"Labor and Shas are close to joining the government," a Kadima team member said. "There wasn't anything in the talks that would prevent them from joining, and the gaps between us were not wide. Olmert wants a wide coalition with parties that understand what we intend to do over the next few years and which will have no excuse for leaving the government later."
Kadima team chairman Yoram Turbowitz said that in the negotiations "there won't be fireworks," and the talks would be "direct, productive and fair to build a coalition that will be wide and stable."
"There's a country to run, so I have been directed to finish the talks ASAP," he said.