Katsav tasks Olmert with forming gov't

Olmert says no party would be ruled out in coalition negotiations.

Olmert Katsav 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Olmert Katsav 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
There was no surprise in the announcement, but finally it was official. President Moshe Katsav announced on Thursday that he had designated Kadima chairman Ehud Olmert to form the new government. Olmert had the support of 78 MKs said Katsav, aside from whom there was no other nominee. Katsav said that he had been determined not to drag out the process and had decided to invite Olmert at the earliest possible opportunity, to form a government. He could not do so before receiving the official election results from the Central Election Committee on Wednesday evening. Katsav concluded the last of his consultations with Knesset factions an hour and a half before Olmert arrived at Beit Hanassi. The final delegation was that of United Torah Judaism, which while it did not exactly endorse Olmert, was certainly not against him. Speaking later to reporters Rabbi Moshe Gafni said: "The President told us that Ehud Olmert was the only candidate and we found that acceptable." "In the past we voted twice for Olmert as mayor, so we would certainly be in favor of him being prime minister," added Rabbi Meir Porush, a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, whose name has been mentioned as a possible candidate for mayor in Jerusalem's next municipal elections. The delegation was willing to join the broad-based coalition that Olmert hopes to create, but stated that UJT's partnership in the coalition was contingent on two major issues. The weakest sector of society was grievously hurt by the cutbacks in government social welfare payments, said, Gafni, and these payments had to be restored. In addition, the UJT wanted to see Israel not just as a democratic state, but a democratic and Jewish state, with the full restoration of services to the religious community and an independent religious education system. None of the members of the delegation was prepared to discuss portfolios. The UJT, though a faction since the beginning of the State, has never taken on a full ministerial portfolio. Even when its members acted as ministers, their rank was never higher than deputy minister. Katsav said that the consultations afforded him an excellent opportunity to learn the views of MKs from different factions on issues such as the conflict with the Palestinians, the relationship between religion and State, poverty statistics and possible solutions, the structure of government and other subjects of national importance. In reiterating his regret at the number of people who had declined to vote, Katsav underscored that nonetheless, the election results carry a clear message from the voting public. Katsav voiced the hope that the next government would be more efficient and capable of confronting all its challenges, and commended Olmert for wanting to form a broad-based stable government. He was also pleased by Olmert's statement that no party would be ruled out in coalition negotiations. Katsav was certain that the wide support that Olmert has received would guarantee his success. Turning to Olmert, Katsav said: "This is your opportunity to bring about social justice, security and true peace with our neighbors." Olmert responded that he would make every effort to form a new government as quickly as possible despite the complexities of political life in Israel. He wanted a government that will serve its full four-year term, he said. Declaring his desire for the widest possible representation of all sectors of Israeli society in the government, Olmert pledged not to cause further rifts but to focus on unifying issues that had a common denominator. No party that had been democratically elected would be excluded if it was willing to accept the basic principles of the Kadima-led government, said Olmert. Katsav was asked whether he felt insulted by the fact that Labor had proposed Amir Peretz for prime minister when Peretz was in fact conducting secret negotiations to join forces with Olmert. Katsav replied that he would like to believe that the secret negotiations were not taking place at the time that he was talking to the Labor delegation. Olmert assured him that they took place several hours later "sometime between midnight on Sunday and the early hours of Monday." Pressed to once again state his political platform, which he eventually did in Hebrew and in English, Olmert said that his policies had been well-known to the voters, to the politicians, and to the international community. Olmert declared his commitment to the Road Map and the decisions of the Quartet, and stated that any Palestinian partner will have to recognize Israel, cease all terror activity and honor all agreements that the Palestinians have signed with Israel. "We will wait until the Palestinians are ready to implement those principles." If not, he said, Israel would act on a broad consensus within Israel and the international community towards determining permanent borders. Pressed about the number of ministers that he would have in his government and the specific appointments that he would make, Olmert quipped that he had been learning about what he was going to do by perusing media reports. "I'm going to be patient," he said. "I ask you to be patient." The negotiations are only just beginning, he observed, and experience had taught him that demands at the start of negotiations are not necessarily identical to those at the end. He had been involved in a lot of coalition talks in the past, he said, but this time it would be a more emotional experience, because he had never come to the table before as a prospective head of government.