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Israel's Kadima Party Names Ehud Olmert Chief

16 January 2006

Israel's new centrist Kadima Party officially picked acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as party chairman on Monday. Mr. Olmert will now lead the party founded two months ago by Ariel Sharon to general elections on March 28.

Ehud Olmert is now the man to beat in Israel's election. As the official head of the centrist Kadima Party, Mr. Olmert enjoys a wide degree of support in recent polls.

The Kadima Party was formed in November by Ariel Sharon, after he left the with him.

Akiva Aldar is a senior columnist at the daily Haaretz newspaper says, with the selection of Mr. Olmert to lead Kadima, the political era of Ariel Sharon, who has suffered a massive stroke and brain hemmhorage, is now over.

"Now that it seems that Mr. Sharon is definitely out of politics, hopefully, he will be back home soon, but he is definitely not capable to take the challenge of leading his party to the elections," he commented.

Several leading Labor Party leaders have also joined the Kadima Party, most notably, former Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Recent polls show Israelis hungry for a centrist party, with Kadima predicted to gain as many as a third of the 120 seats in the Israeli Knesset.

Akiva Aldar says, however, with so many personalities, frictions are likely to develop at some point within Kadima.

"I [am] very suspicious of the quiet that is coming out of Kadima. It is too quiet, and it seems that they are very experienced politicians, and they know that, once they start fighting, that will be the beginning of the end," he said. "So, I believe it will start after the elections, because there are so many egos. But, the interests are probably bigger than the egos, and, right now, they are holding it inside, because they want to show some kind of harmony."

On Sunday, in his first substantive policy directive, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert got Israel's Cabinet to approve a plan that will allow East Jerusalem Arabs to vote in Palestinian elections later this month. Akiva Aldar says Ariel Sharon founded Kadima in order to be able to establish Israel's border with the Palestinians, and that goal will not change with Mr. Olmert now at the Kadima Party helm.

"What brings the Kadima leadership together on common ground is that Israel has dictated the borders, and to pursue the unilateral approach of Sharon, and to withdraw from more territories that Israel does not plan to keep under a final status settlement," noted Aldar.

Akiva Aldar says Ehud Olmert and the Kadima Party will likely win the upcoming Israeli election, because the Israeli public sees the Kadima Party as carrying out the legacy of Ariel Sharon, setting Israel's final border with the Palestinians.

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