Interim Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledges to work with Palestinian President

One week before the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections on 25 January, acting Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas both expressed their desire to work together on the peace process, which has stalled since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke earlier this month.

‘I hope that after the PLC election results are in, and after our election results are in, that I will be able to enter into negotiations with Abu Mazen [Abbas] on a final status agreement between us and the Palestinians,’ Olmert said on 17 January. The comments followed Olmert’s election as Kadima interim chairman hours before, effectively making him prime minister until the Israeli elections on 28 March, and days after allowing voting in the PLC elections to take place in East Jerusalem without the participation of Hamas.

Olmert’s comments came after Abbas indicated a day earlier that he was ready to co-operate with the former Jerusalem mayor. ‘I have dealt with him [Olmert] and I know him well. He has his positions and his views, but we will deal with him without any preconceptions,’ he said. He added that he would not seek re-election as president after his term ends in 2009. ‘I could run again, I know that, but this will not happen. I will just complete my remaining three years in office. I will not run again. That is absolute,’ he said.

In his first decision as prime minister, Olmert made a number of cabinet appointments on 18 January after the resignations of four Likud party ministers. His appointments included Tzipi Livni as foreign minister, the first female since Golda Meir to hold the post. Zeev Boim, Yaakov Edri and Roni Bar-On took the education, health and agriculture portfolios respectively.

The Labour party announced the results of its primary election on the same day, determining the names to go on the national list for the Knesset elections. Party leader Emir Peretz was already guaranteed the top spot, while the second and third places went to former housing minister Isaac Herzog and former interior minister Ophir Pines-Paz respectively. A notable absentee from the list was former prime minister Ehud Barak, who was expected to play a central role in a Labour government. However, Peretz was reported not to have promised him the defence portfolio.

Violence in the West Bank continued as Thabet Ayyadeh, a Hamas militant shot dead by Israeli troops in Tulkarm on 17 January, became the first member of the militant Islamist organisation to be killed since the end of its informal truce.