Israeli govt to be sworn in

“The new government will face complex challenges … I believe it will be sworn in,” Mr Olmert said during a toast for military commanders held in honour of Israel’s 58th Independence Day.

Mr Olmert, who has been acting in the position since his mentor Ariel Sharon suffered a stroke on January 4, will on Thursday present parliament with his coalition, formed after his centrist Kadima party came out on top in a March 28 election.

He has only a slender majority with 67 MPs in the 120-seat parliament, and his coalition includes 19 members of the centre-left Labour party, 12 from the ultra-Orthodox Shas and seven from the Pensioners party, as well as 29 from Kadima.

Mr Olmert will firstly address the parliament, and outline the main lines of his new government before opposition Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu makes his own address.

MPs will then vote to approve the new government, a mere formality given Mr Olmert’s majority, after which the 24 new ministers will be sworn in.

The Knesset is also expected to elect Mr Olmert’s candidate for speaker, Kadima MP Dalia Yitzik, as the first woman to head Israel’s legislature.

The session comes after four weeks of intensive and at times stormy coalition talks between Kadima and the 11 other parties that won seats in parliament.

The narrow coalition renders the government extremely fragile, casting doubt over how well Mr Olmert can implement his promise of fixing Israel’s borders with the West Bank by 2008 and carry out far-reaching economic reforms.

His lack of charisma, the new Hamas-led Palestinian government, uncertain international support and voluble opposition from the powerful settler lobby could scupper his masterplan to effectively uproot 70,000 Jews from the West Bank.

The choice of as defence minister of Labour leader Amir Peretz, a man with no military expertise and no ministerial experience, has raised eyebrows and the hackles of those on the right for whom security is the state’s primary job.

Controversy has also swirled around the appointment of Rafi Eitan, a former Mossad spy wanted by the FBI over the scandal of an American Jew shopping Pentagon secrets to Israel, to the brand-new portfolio of pensioner affairs.

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