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New Israeli cabinet eyes borders, pullout

Kadima's Ehud Olmert, Israel's acting prime minister, named his coalition government Monday.

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Israeli Prime Minister-designate Ehud Olmert finished cementing a government Monday, bringing together a mix of parties with a center-left bent and a willingness to make territorial concessions in hopes of minimizing - if not settling - the century-old Arab-Jewish conflict.

But even as Mr. Olmert's cabinet takes shape, pointing toward a more liberal leadership than Israel has had since before the start of the intifada in 2000, many observers say they are unsure whether Olmert will pave the way toward a new era of peacemaking or open a new chapter in unilateralism.

Olmert says that he intends to draw Israel's final borders by 2010 and pull out from parts of the West Bank as well.

"Olmert has a majority for his ideas, and now he has to clarify what the ideas are, and I'm not so sure he even knows what he wants to do," says Reuven Pedhatzur, a political scientist professor at Tel Aviv University. "The idea is to continue the disengagement, but what that means is unclear. He believes we cannot maintain this situation anymore, but I don't think he has a complete plan, or a complete map of how to change it."

In this, one of the most sensitive periods of time on the local calendar - Israelis celebrate Independence Day on Wednesday while Palestinians mark it solemnly as "Al Nakba," the Catastrophe - the greater state of affairs has looked deeply unpromising.

Israel, the US, and many Western countries have frozen diplomatic and economic ties with the Palestinian Authority (PA) after January's victory of Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel or make a comprehensive shift from militancy to policymaking. But some Palestinians, particularly those who are still avid proponents of a two-state solution, say Olmert's government presents reasons for optimism.

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