Olmert claims victory in Israeli election
Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared victory on Wednesday in Israel's election, pledging to pursue a plan to give up parts of the West Bank and impose a border on the Palestinians if peacemaking stays frozen.
"Today Israeli democracy has spoken clearly. Israel wants Kadima," Olmert said in a speech at the centrist party's election headquarters after exit polls in Tuesday's vote forecast a first-place finish.
With votes counted from 99.5 per cent of polling stations, official results showed Kadima with 28 seats in the 120-member Parliament, center-left Labour with 20, the ultra-Orthodox Shas with 13, ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu with 12 and right-wing Likud with 11.
In the absence of progress toward peace, Olmert aims to set Israel's final frontier by 2010 by removing isolated settlements in the occupied West Bank while expanding bigger blocs there.
Palestinians say such go-it-alone moves, sweeping measures that would uproot tens of thousands of settlers while tracing a border along a fortified barrier Israel is building inside the West Bank, would deny them a viable state.
Olmert, appealing in his speech to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said Jews had aspired for thousands of years to create a homeland throughout the Land of Israel, biblical territory that includes the West Bank.
"But acknowledging reality and circumstances, we are ready to compromise, to give up parts of the beloved Land of Israel ... and evacuate, with great pain, Jews living there, to create the conditions that will enable you to fulfil your dream and live alongside us," Olmert said.
If the Palestinians did not move toward peace, he said, "Israel will take its destiny in hand" and set permanent borders after lobbying the United States and others for support.
The results were a sharp setback for the Likud's leader, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu pledged to stay on as Likud chief, a post he regained only three months ago after then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon quit the party amid an internal revolt over Israel's Gaza pullout. Sharon founded Kadima before suffering a stroke in January that sent him into a coma.