Labor joins coalition in Israel

JERUSALEM — JERUSALEM -- The centrist Kadima Party of acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert signed a coalition deal yesterday with the left-leaning Labor Party, forming the core of a new Israeli government expected to pursue a plan for the removal of Israeli settlements from large areas of the West Bank.

Kadima won Israel's election March 28 but must build a coalition with other parties to gain a majority in the 120-member legislature. A coalition agreement was signed Wednesday with the Pensioners Party, and two religious parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, are expected to join.


Labor Party leader Amir Peretz is expected to become defense minister in the new government. A former union leader whose campaign focused on social and economic issues, Peretz does not have the military credentials of many of his predecessors. The departing defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, is a former army chief of staff who has favored tough responses to Palestinian attacks, including airstrikes to kill Palestinian militants, a tactic that sometimes has caused significant civilian casualties.

Critics say Peretz will be handicapped by his lack of military experience, but supporters say it will be better to have a minister with a civilian perspective running Israel's powerful defense establishment.


Peretz's biggest challenge could be the evacuation of thousands of Jewish settlers under Olmert's plan to pull back from much of the West Bank to a line roughly traced by Israel's separation barrier. Olmert has said he wants to draw Israel's final borders by 2010, keeping major blocs of West Bank settlements and removing the rest.

In addition to the Defense Ministry, Labor will get the education and agriculture ministries and four other Cabinet posts.

In the Gaza Strip yesterday, an Israeli missile strike killed a Palestinian militant from Islamic Jihad and critically wounded another near the town of Deir al-Balah, medical officials said.

An Israeli aircraft fired missiles at a car loaded with rockets and at militants who fled from a second vehicle, the army and Palestinian officials said. The militants were on their way to fire the homemade rockets at Israeli targets, the army said.

Islamic Jihad and other militant groups have repeatedly fired crude rockets from the Gaza Strip at southern Israel, prompting Israeli shelling and airstrikes.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv last week that killed nine people. The group has carried out eight suicide bombings since a truce was declared last year.

Joel Greenberg writes for the Chicago Tribune.