07/31/2008, 00.00
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Some hope for peace with the Palestinians as Olmert gets ready to bow out

by Joshua Lapide
Syria, the Palestinian National Authority and the United States hope the peace process will continue. Within Israel the race for Olmert’s succession is expected to be tough going.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will try to reach a peace deal with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas before a new government takes office, an official close to the premier said. Yesterday Olmert announced he would not run in his Kadima party's primaries scheduled for 17 September and would resign instead to allow his successor to form a new government. Until then, he would remain caretaker prime minister and push ahead with peace talks with the Palestinians.

News that Olmert was quitting caught diplomatic and political circles in the region by surprise. The Israeli leader had been involved in the peace process with the Palestinian National Authority, and indirectly with Syria.

His resignation could lead to early elections and possibly a victory by hawkish opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

Syria's ambassador to the United Nations Bashar Ja'afari said he hoped that Olmert’s resignation would not stop indirect talks with Israel.

Top PNA negotiator Saeb Erakat said talks would continue.

The United States, the talks’ main backer, also expressed hope they would continue.

However, Olmert might lack the necessary power to conduct talks or take any important decisions in the next few months.

Tainted by scandals and accusations of corruption, Ehud Olmert bows out of politics acknowledging in yesterday’s press conference that he made “mistakes”. He insisted though  that he was not the corrupt villain depicted in the media.

Olmert’s succession at the helm of Kadima won’t be easy. The two main candidates are Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz. Both have distanced themselves from Olmert and his policies. Ms Livni never backed Olmert in his disastrous war against Lebanon’s Hizbollah in 2006. Mofaz is famous for predicting that an Israeli attack against Iran was “inevitable”.

Mudding the water is Ehud Barak. A former prime minister, Mr Barak is current Labour party leader and defence minister in Olmert’s cabinet, and has never concealed his desire to get back into the prime minister’s office.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu has called for elections, comforted by surveys that indicate that if they were held now he would come out the winner.

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See also
Tzipi Livni’s victory and the Middle East’s shaky hopes for peace
Kadima to pick Olmert’s successor
Israel getting ready for early elections
Israel rejects (for now) truce proposal in Gaza as “unrealistic”
Fallout from Palestinian crisis to be discussed at four-party summit next Monday