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Election politics show Israel's drift from peace negotiations

The new and favored Kadima party promises to establish borders on its own.

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The billboards have been going up, and each night's TV schedule is punctuated by a 40-minute block of state-funded political advertisements. Israel's voters and 15 political parties are preparing for an election March 28.

The choices they face there have been transformed by the upheavals the country's politics have seen in the past eight months - the clear frontrunner is the Kadima party, meaning "forward," which did not even exist until November. The most distinctive feature of the new party's platform, moreover, is that it turns its back on 58 years of Israeli commitment to negotiating peace with its neighbors, promising voters instead that a Kadima-led government is ready and eager to draw Israel's borders quite unilaterally.

On March 8 the party's head, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, spelled out his intention that by 2010, "Israel will be disengaged from the vast majority of the Palestinian population, within new borders." These permanent borders would, he said, be close to the line of the present separation barrier in the West Bank, with some adjustments. And Israel would determine their location on its own.

This unilateralism appeals strongly to voters who, since late 2000, have been very disillusioned with the idea of trying to negotiate a peace with the Palestinians. "In past elections, the parties all adopted strong positions on the issue of peace," commentator Akiva Eldar told me. "But this time, the voters aren't looking for peace - they're looking for quiet."

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