JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli President Moshe Katsav formally chose acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Thursday to form Israel’s next government, and Olmert said he would quickly put together a coalition committed to carrying out his West Bank withdrawal plan.
During the campaign, Olmert said he planned to pull Israel out of much of the West Bank, while strengthening its control of major settlement blocs and drawing the country’s final borders by 2010. The withdrawal will be part of the new government’s written program, Olmert said.
“My political positions were expressed in detail and will also be expressed in detail in the written program of the government that I will head,” he said.
Katsav said 78 members of Israel’s 120-member Knesset recommended that Olmert be tapped as the next prime minister. Olmert’s centrist Kadima Party won 29 seats in last week’s parliamentary elections, the most of any party. “I am honored to announce at this time that I decided to give lawmaker Ehud Olmert the responsibility of forming the government,” Katsav said at the beginning of a joint news conference with Olmert.
Olmert, who has served as acting prime minister since Ariel Sharon suffered a stroke Jan. 4, has 28 days to try to put together a governing coalition of at least 61 lawmakers. If he fails, he can ask for a two-week extension.
“I ask that you all be patient,” Olmert said, “but I promise we will try to do this as quickly as possible.” He said he would try to include a cross-section of parties from across Israel’s political spectrum in his government.
“It is not easy to form a coalition that is stable, that enjoys a secure majority that can last a full term,” he said.
Katsav, Israel’s ceremonial president, met in recent days with representatives of all the Knesset parties. No one recommended another candidate for prime minister, he said. Katsav said that he wanted Olmert to form a broad coalition.