Olmert would set borders by 2010 if party wins election

JERUSALEM — JERUSALEM --Israel's acting prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said that if his Kadima Party wins national elections this month, he would seek to set Israel's permanent borders by 2010 and that the boundary would run along or close to Israel's separation barrier in the West Bank.

Olmert also said he planned to develop Israel's largest settlement, Maale Adumim, which would eventually be linked with nearby East Jerusalem - a move the Palestinians vehemently oppose.


The United States has also objected to this plan.

Olmert, whose centrist party is heavily favored in the March 28 parliamentary elections, has been offering additional details this week on what he intends to do if his party wins.


His latest remarks appeared yesterday in The Jerusalem Post and on the Haaretz newspaper Web site.

Olmert said he was pursuing the plan outlined by the prime minister, Ariel Sharon, who has been comatose for more than two months after suffering a stroke.

Sharon had been intentionally vague; Olmert has been increasingly explicit.

Some of Olmert's critics have questioned whether Sharon would have proposed the same steps, particularly in the wake of an election victory by Hamas, the radical Islamic group.

Olmert told The Jerusalem Post that his top priority would be to "get to Israel's permanent borders, whereby we will be completely separate from the majority of the Palestinian population and preserve a large and stable Jewish majority in Israel."

The president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and his Fatah movement oppose unilateral Israeli actions and have sought a negotiated settlement that would give the Palestinians a state in all of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, with a capital in East Jerusalem.

But Hamas has always refused to recognize Israel or negotiate with the Jewish state. Hamas says it would consider a long-term truce if Israel withdrew from all of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Israel pulled out of Gaza last summer.


Olmert said he would wait a "reasonable time" to see whether Hamas was willing to recognize Israel, disavow violence and accept previous agreements.

But if Hamas "is not willing to accept these principles, we will need to begin to act," he told The Jerusalem Post.

Olmert said recently that Israel would not undertake any major infrastructure projects in West Bank settlements, though he appeared to be referring only to those beyond the separation barrier.

In his latest comments, he said he planned to go ahead with the E-1 development plan, which calls for constructing about 3,500 homes in the land between East Jerusalem and the large Maale Adumim settlement.

Maale Adumim, which has more than 30,000 residents, is just a couple of miles from East Jerusalem.

"It's entirely clear that the continuity between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim will be a built-up continuity," Olmert was quoted as saying by Haaretz. "In my view, there is an absolute consensus in Israel on this issue."


Last year, Israel announced it was freezing the E-1 building plan in the face of opposition from the United States.

The Palestinians say the plan would create a barrier of Jewish settlements just to the east of Jerusalem.

As a result, Palestinians living in East Jerusalem would be largely separated from Palestinians elsewhere in the West Bank. Palestinians say this will undermine their efforts to establish a viable state.

On another contentious topic, Israel has insisted that its West Bank separation barrier is being built solely as a security measure. But Olmert said it would also form the basis of a border.

"The course of the fence - which until now has been a security fence - will be in line with the new course of the permanent border," Olmert told Haaretz.

"There may be cases in which we move the fence eastward, there may be cases in which we move the fence westward, in line with what we agree upon."


The location of the barrier, which is more than one-third complete, would keep about 10 percent of West Bank land on the Israeli side.

In another development yesterday, Israel reopened the Karni crossing, the transit point for commercial goods going in and out of Gaza.

Food and medicine were allowed to pass through Karni for the first time since Israel closed it Feb. 21 in response to an explosion near the crossing.