Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Israel's Ehud Olmert @ Center Stage
Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert led the centrist Kadima party, only four months after it was founded by Ariel Sharon, to victory in March's general election
Indeed, Mr Olmert has proved difficult to pigeonhole, with a wife and children whose politics are far to the left of his own.
Olmert was seen as Ariel Sharon's right-hand man
Gradually, his ideas began to drift from the traditional viewpoint of the Israeli right wing - he opposed both the 1978 Camp David accords with Egypt and the 1993 Oslo agreement with the Palestinians - and in doing so, reflected a change in the mindset of the wider Israeli population.
A key member of Mr Sharon's government, he talked of the need for Israel to make painful choices in order to preserve its Jewish and democratic character - by giving up Palestinian lands in Gaza and the West Bank.
"He was one of the first in our political camp who spoke of the need to reach a compromise with the Palestinians that would include a partition of the land, giving them a part of the land we believe is ours and they believe is theirs," said Mr Meridor.
Last summer, Mr Olmert's plans became reality as Jewish settlers were forcibly removed from the Gaza Strip.
The decision provoked ire from many Likud MPs and Mr Sharon finally left the party in November to found Kadima. Mr Olmert soon followed.
When Mr Sharon suffered a stroke on 4 January, Mr Olmert took over the leadership of both the government and party.
Demography was the motivation for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's withdrawal of troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip last year and Kadima's election pledge to make future "territorial compromises" in the West Bank.
The idea is rejected by the former ruling party, Likud, which Mr Sharon was forced to split from to set up Kadima in November 2005.
But when Mr Sharon was incapacitated by a stroke in January he had not fully spelled out Kadima's intentions, so this job has fallen to his close advisers and his deputy, Ehud Olmert.