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(photo credit: Channel 2)
The Palestinian Authority would have six to 12 months to comply with Israeli demands before a Kadima-led government would begin unilateral withdrawals from the West Bank, senior Kadima member Haim Ramon announced Sunday.
Ramon's comments are the first to give a clear time line on the disengagement plan articulated by his party, which leads in polls ahead of Tuesday's elections. He spoke soon after Kadima leader Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared on Israel Radio that it would be inappropriate to talk about a time frame for the pullout ahead of the elections.
Ramon said that, should Kadima form the next government, Israel would call on Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to pass legislation enshrining his "one authority, one law, one gun" slogan into law; to coerce the Hamas government to adopt the "international demands" of recognition of Israel, an end to violence, and adherence to previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians; and to start to implement the road map.
"We will give a reasonable time for Abu Mazen [Abbas] to meet those demands... six months or a year," Ramon told foreign journalists gathered in Jerusalem to hear from representatives of the three leading parties.
If, after that time, it becomes apparent that "nothing is happening," he said, "with the backing of the international community - the same as the international community backed the disengagement from Gaza - we will start to talk about the unfortunate unilateral disengagement from the West Bank." He continued, "We will take our destiny into our own hands. We are strong enough to do it, [though] it's not our first choice."
Uzi Landau of the Likud, who also participated in the Jerusalem event, assailed the Kadima plan. He said the Palestinians must feel that they need to negotiate. Under the Kadima program, he asked, "Who will be this clever Palestinian who will decide to sit with us and negotiate, when by waiting he'll get anything he wants?"
Isaac Herzog, who represented Labor at the forum, said that the "difference is not very wide" between his party and Kadima when it comes to the Palestinians. But he stressed that Labor wants to "exhaust" all possible negotiations with Abbas before resorting to unilateral action.
In his interview with Israel Radio, Olmert reiterated that if Hamas did not renounce violence and accept previous agreements, Israel would not wait forever for a Palestinian negotiating partner, but would rather - after an internal debate and consultation with the US and other international actors - set the borders on its own.
"I spoke about negotiations with the United States and the international community and I spoke about final borders that the entire international community will support, including the United States of America," Olmert said. "I have a basis to believe that there is great openness in the US, and in other places, to listen to these arguments and also to seriously discuss them."
Olmert, who last week said that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni would be his deputy, who would take over from him if need be, also said Sunday that Shimon Peres would be his other deputy - a job description Peres also held under Sharon. Olmert said he depended on and appreciated Peres, and that he would have a central role in a future Kadima government. "We have close, intensive, daily cooperation, and that will be the case if we form the government," Olmert said.
At Sunday's cabinet meeting, Olmert invoked Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's name in an effort to rustle an apparently apathetic nation out of its indifference and into the polling places.
Olmert said that Sharon's "spirit and path" would continue to shape the country's policies in the coming years.
"I call on all Israeli citizens to use their right to vote and participate in the elections," he said. "There is no greater or more significant expression of civil rights than the ability to participate and determine through the vote the fate of the country and character of its government."
Olmert's call for people to vote comes amid concern inside Kadima that comments he made earlier in the campaign, to the effect that the results were a foregone conclusion, may keep some of the party's "soft supporters" from making the effort to go to the polls.
One Kadima official said the party may have as many as four-to-five mandates worth of "soft supporters" who have some doubt about the new party, and who might not go to vote unless "someone grabs them by the ears." Turning these people out to vote on Election Day, he said, has become critical for the party.
President Moshe Katsav also called on all citizens to exercise their democratic right to vote. He expressed concern at the general apathy that has characterized the attitude towards the elections, and was particularly worried by the large number of people who have indicated to pollsters that they did not intend to vote.
Katsav emphasized that Israel today stood at the most crucial crossroads in its history, and for this reason it was essential that everyone participate in the elections.
The Associated Press and Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.