Israel's centrist Kadima Party won more parliamentary seats than any other party in elections on Tuesday, giving its leader, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the mandate he says he wants to set Israel's final border with the Palestinians during the next parliamentary term. Tuesday's vote dealt a severe blow to Israel's once powerful Likud Party.
Preliminary results show Ehud Olmert's Kadima Party winning about 30 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. The results also show the center-left Labor Party led by labor leader Amir Peretz coming in a strong second, winning at least 20 seats. Labor is a likely coalition partner with Kadima.
Speaking to his supporters early Wednesday, Ehud Olmert says the results validate Ariel Sharon's decision to move Israeli politics to the center by forming Kadima late last year after breaking away from the Likud Party.
Olmert says the dream of Israel has existed for thousands of years and now it is time for Palestinians to compromise and reach an agreement with Israel that will also fulfill Palestinian dreams of a state of their own. Israel's acting prime minister says Israel will act unilaterally if Palestinians do not compromise.
In a major political development, preliminary results also show Israel's rightist Likud Party battling for third place with the Shas religious party, and with the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu Party, which calls for redrawing Israel's borders in order to move Israeli Arabs into territory controlled by Palestinians.
Tuesday's vote was marked by a relatively low turnout which Hebrew University Political Science Professor Yitzhak Brudny says benefits smaller single interest parties.
"The lower turnout as everywhere else benefits marginal ideological parties because their voters show up," said Yitzhak Brudny.
Smaller parties that did well on Tuesday include Yisrael Beiteinu, which gained at least 10 seats, and a party made up of and largely supported by pensioners, which could give a Kadima-Labor government the majority it needs in parliament. Final results from Israel's election are expected Wednesday.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said late Tuesday he is willing to start immediate negotiations to implement the U.S. backed road map peace plan which calls for a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Palestinians have criticized Mr. Olmert's proposal to demarcate Israel's border along the controversial separation barrier as well as his proposal to keep several large West Bank settlement blocs as Israeli territory. A spokesman for Hamas which takes over the Palestinian Authority this week, and which refuses to recognize Israel, says the group will actively resist any plan by Israel that holds onto Palestinian territory.