- The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2006

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Ehud Olmert won over enough parties to form a majority coalition yesterday, clearing the way for his plans to reshape the West Bank and set final borders with the Palestinians.

Mr. Olmert’s centrist Kadima party reached its immediate goal when it drafted a deal earlier in the day with Shas, a leading ultrareligious Jewish party. Shas’s ruling rabbis approved the agreement at a late-night meeting, a party spokesman said.

“The parties are signing the deal now,” the spokesman said.

With Shas on board, Mr. Olmert controls 67 of parliament’s 120 seats — a majority crucial to pushing through his proposal to abandon isolated Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and strengthen major settlements in the absence of peace talks with the Palestinians.

Israeli journalists have said the Cabinet could be announced within days and sworn in Thursday. Kadima, the party that won the most seats in March 28 elections but not a majority, already had signed up the center-left Labor party and the pensioners’ party, Gil.

Once the government is in place, Mr. Olmert plans to visit the United States, Israel’s closest ally, to present the outlines of his West Bank proposals at a meeting with President Bush later this month, Israeli government sources have said.

Mr. Olmert has pledged to set Israel’s borders with the Palestinians by 2010, with or without Palestinian agreement. His “convergence plan” includes beefing up major Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Palestinians have said such a move would not bring peace and would annex land they want for a state of their own in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, which Israel left last year.

The Cabinet yesterday approved a new route for Israel’s West Bank barrier, giving the go-ahead for the structure to cut deep into the West Bank in order to take in two large Jewish settlement blocs that would remain part of Israel under Mr. Olmert’s plan.

The new route marginally reduces the amount of West Bank land enclosed by the barrier and now excludes several Palestinian villages that originally would have been surrounded.

But it still opens the way for the vast steel-and-concrete construction to envelop the heavily populated Ariel and Kedumim settlement blocs in the northern West Bank.

The decision to alter the barrier’s route comes after objections raised by the United States to the original route and complaints brought before Israel’s courts.

Kadima won 29 seats in the March elections, which will give it one of the lowest tallies for a governing Israeli party.

Labor has 19 seats. Its leader, former trade union chief Amir Peretz, is due to become defense minister, party officials have said. Gil has seven seats, and Shas 12.

Mr. Olmert also is courting another ultra-Orthodox party and a Russian-immigrant nationalist faction as he tries to form a broad administration with about 80 parliamentary seats.

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