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Last Updated: Monday, 13 February 2006, 17:27 GMT
Olmert vows to set final borders
Ehud Olmert
Ehud Olmert seems intent on carrying out Mr Sharon's plans
Israel's next government will aim to fix the country's final borders, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said.

Mr Olmert, who will lead the Kadima party into national elections on 28 March, said the move would be the "first objective" of a new government.

Correspondents say his remarks signal an intention to stage unilateral pullouts from parts of the West Bank.

Mr Olmert has already said that Israel needs to give up some land to ensure a Jewish majority within its borders.

Mr Olmert spoke as Israel's Haaretz newspaper revealed that military restrictions imposed in the Jordan Rift Valley, in the northern West Bank, over the course of the past year, have almost completely cut off Palestinian access to the area.

I hope that those who are elected will allow for the creation of a national consensus that will allow us to face the challenges ahead
Ehud Olmert
Acting Israeli PM

Palestinians can no longer enter the Jordan Valley, which runs from the Sea of Galilee in the north of the West Bank to the Dead Sea in the centre of the territory, the newspaper reports.

The restrictions stop Palestinian movements in about one-third of the whole West Bank, the report says.

Mr Olmert has said that Israel should keep the Jordan Valley, as well as East Jerusalem and major settlement blocks, as part of a final settlement.

US cautious

Speaking on Monday to Israel's parliament, the Knesset, Mr Olmert said the issue of establishing final borders for the Jewish state was bigger than traditional party rivalries.

"I hope that the MKs [members of Knesset] who are elected will allow for the creation of a national consensus that will allow us to face the challenges ahead."

Last month Mr Olmert said explicitly that Israel would need to give up more land to ensure its future security.

He told a policy conference that Israel could not guarantee a Jewish majority within its borders by ruling over the major population centres in the West Bank.

The withdrawal policy effectively continues the plan begun by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has lain in a coma since suffering a massive stroke at the start of the year.

He orchestrated a unilateral withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip in August last year.

Despite backing the Gaza Strip pullout, the US has spoken out against further unilateral withdrawals.

Last week US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Israel should not take any steps to set final borders, insisting that task must be held over until final status talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

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