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Centrist Kadima Party Slips in Israeli Polls


A poll released less than a week before Israeli's March 28 general elections shows the centrist Kadima Party of acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert slipping slightly in the polls. A close associate of Mr. Olmert, former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, told reporters that Kadima would like to reach a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians, but with Hamas in charge of the Palestinian Authority there seems to be little chance of that happening.

A leading poll says Ehud Olmert's Kadima Party will get 36 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, easily winning next week's election, but not enough seats to form a government on its own. The poll indicates that since last week, Kadima appears to have lost three seats.

According to the poll, Israel's left-wing Labor Party is getting stronger, gaining two seats, while the right-wing Likud Party is losing strength and may only win 14 seats.

Speaking to a leading Hebrew-language daily newspaper, Mr. Olmert says any parties who want to join his government will have to agree to his plan of drawing Israel's final border with Palestinians by the year 2010, and withdrawing from most West Bank settlements, while keeping three large settlement blocs. Mr. Olmert says Israel's separation barrier will serve as the outline for a future border.

Former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who is expected to get a senior post in a future Kadima government, told reporters on Thursday that Israel will move quickly to implement the plan.

"We are ready immediately after the elections to open a negotiation with the Palestinians that are willing to negotiate and willing to accept the 'road map' in order to arrive at the agreement to mark future borders and to do it on an acceptable basis with the rest of the world," he said.

Under the "road map" peace plan Palestinians are to forego violence and Israel is to stop building settlements in the West Bank. But there has been little or no progress in recent months between the two sides on implementing any of the Roadmap provisions.

Mr. Peres says Israel still views Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as a negotiating partner, but will have nothing to do with Hamas, the Islamic militant group that won Palestinian parliamentary elections and which refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist.

"In order to agree, you have to agree that you accept international agreements," he added. "And if want to destroy Israel what do we have to talk about?"

Palestinians across the political spectrum have harshly criticized the Kadima proposal, which was first put forth last year by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, shortly before he was sidelined by a massive stroke. Palestinians say any future Palestinian state should include all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as well as east Jerusalem.

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