Labor boosted by Olmert's coalition restrictions

Olmert excludes anti-pullout parties from coalition; Labor expresses optimism.

labor ad 298.88 (photo credit:
labor ad 298.88
(photo credit:
Though the polls showed only a slight gain for Labor, the party pronounced itself boosted Thursday by Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's declaration that he would form a coalition only with parties prepared to accept his West Bank convergence plan. While the Likud, National Union-National Religious Party and Shas have criticized the plan to remove isolated West Bank settlements while retaining the larger settlement blocs, Labor has included the withdrawals in its platform. As Kadima continues to lead the polls and appears likely to form the next government, the possible makeup of that coalition has overshadowed the campaign in the week leading up to the elections. "We feel like Olmert's statement gives us more room to negotiate," said a senior Labor official. "We still want to take this election. But if we have to join a coalition, most likely with Kadima, we now feel like we have more ground to take." Among the ground that Labor hopes to gain is the 25 mandate mark, which officials said was within reach as the party climbed to 21 in several polls Thursday. If it scored high on Election Day, Labor was prepared to ask for the Industry and Trade Ministry in addition to the Education Ministry, said one Labor candidate. The Education Ministry may prove tricky, however, as Olmert has widely promised the position to Kadima's Uriel Reichman over Labor's MK Yuli Tamir. "We feel like in many ways, Labor can now play hardball over the Education Ministry," said one official. "We also feel like Olmert may have thrown us a few more mandates." Several Labor candidates have begun to unofficially campaign along a new strategy, urging voters to ignore their doubts over party chairman Amir Peretz as a candidate for prime minister, and instead vote for Labor as a coalition partner. "Olmert has pretty much backed up a lot of our efforts," said one Labor candidate. Not all Labor officials seemed as enthusiastic over Olmert's comments, as one candidate expressed fear that right-wing voters might form a backlash against Labor over fear of a left-leaning coalition.