Mubarak, Olmert plan to meet

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (Reuters) — Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak called interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to congratulate him for being named to head a new government and the two leaders decided to meet “immediately after a government is formed” in Israel. Egypt, the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, in a 1979 peace treaty, has long helped mediate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was instrumental in achieving a ceasefire deal with Palestinian groups last year.

Olmert has proposed removing Jewish settlers from swathes of the occupied West Bank in the continued absence of peace talks with the Palestinians. At the ceremony, Olmert promised to make “a serious and genuine attempt” to revive peacemaking.

With a new Palestinian government led by the Islamic group Hamas in place, the prospect that peacemaking could be resumed soon seems unlikely.

Olmert reiterated he wanted to reach “an understanding” with the United States and other countries on working “towards the fixing of the permanent border lines even without an agreement.”

Under Olmert’s “convergence plan,” Israel would keep major settlement blocs and trace its final frontier by 2010 along a barrier it is building in the West Bank, where 240,000 Israelis live among 2.4 million Palestinians.

Palestinians condemn the plan they say would annex land and deny the viable state they seek in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Meanwhile, Olmert received the formal nod on Thursday to form a government which he pledged would set Israel’s permanent borders within four years with or without Palestinian agreement.

“I have the honour to announce that I have decided to ask member of parliament Ehud Olmert to form the government,” President Moshe Katsav said at a ceremony with the Kadima Party leader.

Olmert, whose centrist party came first in last week’s election with 29 seats in the 120-member parliament, will have up to 42 days to put together a governing coalition.

“I hope to form a government, which will have the broadest possible support, as quickly as possible,” Olmert said, accepting the nomination.

The centre-left Labour Party led by former trade union chief Amir Peretz has already agreed to a political partnership with Kadima. Kadima will now try to woo a smattering of smaller parties and set government guidelines.

Formal coalition talks will be launched on Sunday.

Negotiations could take weeks as politicians from several parties vie for the top Cabinet seats.

Israel’s outgoing government is expected to officially name Olmert on Tuesday as prime minister instead of Ariel Sharon, who was incapacitated by a stroke in January, an Israeli official said.

Olmert assumed Sharon’s powers weeks ago when Sharon fell into a coma, but Israeli law says the Cabinet must formally elect him to the post once the prime minister has not functioned for 100 days.

Check Also

Leader denies reports Hamas wants PLO alternative

CAIRO – A Hamas leader on Sunday played down reports that his group wanted to …