Israel's Netanyahu rules out govt pact with Olmert

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JERUSALEM, Mar 12 (Reuters) Israel's right-wing Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu today ruled out joining a future government led by interim Prime Minister Minister Ehud Olmert, in protest at planned unilateral West Bank withdrawals.

The remarks bolstered speculation that Olmert's centrist Kadima Party, expected to win March 28 elections, would team up with centre-left Labour for a coalition robust enough to quit occupied land in the face of Jewish ultranationalist opposition.

Netanyahu has come out against Olmert's pledges to withdraw from parts of the West Bank in the absence of peace talks with the Palestinians, calling this a capitulation to violence.

''Certainly we will not be able to sit in a government predicated along these lines,'' Netanyahu, a former prime minister, told Israel's Maariv newspaper.

Palestinians want all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war, for a state. Many Israeli rightists consider the land a Jewish biblical birthright.

Netanyahu quit as Israeli finance minister shortly before last year's withdrawal from Gaza, which Prime Minister Ariel Sharon billed as breaking a deadlock with the Palestinians.

Likud is trailing behind Kadima and Labour in opinion polls, but political analysts say its prospects could be boosted by any resurgence of a Palestinian uprising that erupted in 2000.

Olmert said in interviews published last week he planned to impose permanent Israeli borders by 2010 unless Hamas, an Islamic militant group that swept Palestinian elections on January. 25, renounced violence and recognised the Jewish state.

Hamas has so far refused to do so.

Under any agreed accord, Olmert has said, Israel would keep major Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank. This pledge has been endorsed by both Labour and Likud. Palestinians say it would spell the end of peacemaking efforts.

REUTERS DKS PM1209

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