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Permanent Israeli-Palestinian Border Among Olmert...s Goals

By Greg Myre
THE NEW YORK TIMES


JERUSALEM

In the most detailed description yet of his plans if elected prime minister this month, Ehud Olmert, Israel’s acting prime minister and the front-runner, said that he intended to set the country’s permanent borders by 2010 and that they are likely to run near the West Bank separation barrier.

Olmert also said he planned further development in Israel’s largest settlement, Maale Adumim, which would eventually link up with nearby East Jerusalem. Palestinians vehemently oppose such a move, because it would isolate the Arab parts of East Jerusalem. The United States has also objected.

Olmert, whose centrist party is heavily favored in the parliamentary elections on March 28, spoke in interviews with two Israeli newspapers, The Jerusalem Post, and Haaretz, which posted selections on its Web site on Thursday.

Olmert says he is pursuing the plan outlined by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has been comatose for more than two months after a stroke. Sharon was intentionally vague, though, while Olmert has become increasingly explicit.

Some of Olmert’s critics have questioned whether Sharon would have proposed the same steps, particularly in the wake of the victory by Hamas, the radical Islamic group, in Palestinian legislative elections.

But Olmert seems to believe that Israeli voters see the Hamas victory as an opportunity to set their own future borders without needing to negotiate with a Palestinian government, since Hamas refuses to recognize Israel.

Many Israelis, including Sharon and Olmert, used to dream of expanding their state through the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But in recent years the two leaders have contended that the more important goal is to keep Israel democratic, secure and predominantly Jewish. Moreover, the past five years of violence have made many Israelis want to separate entirely from the Palestinian population.

Doing so will entail removing many more Jewish settlements from the West Bank and consolidating others.