JERUSALEM -- Ehud Olmert was formally sworn in as Israel's prime minister yesterday with his new coalition government, winning parliamentary approval to pursue his goal of drawing Israel's final borders by 2010.
In his first major policy speech to the new legislature, Olmert said Israel needs to shed isolated settlements in the West Bank but will keep major settlement blocs.
The parliament approved Olmert's four-party coalition in a 65-49 vote of confidence, but Olmert said he hoped to expand his team -- an effort to increase his backing ahead of a West Bank redeployment sure to evoke strident and possibly violent opposition from some Israelis.
''The continuation of scattered settlements throughout the West Bank creates an inseparable mix of populations that will threaten the existence of the state of Israel as a Jewish state," Olmert said. ''The borders of Israel that will be formed in the coming years will be significantly different from the territories that the state of Israel holds today."
Olmert was thrust into the top job when Ariel Sharon suffered a massive stroke on Jan. 4. It was Sharon, 78, who walked out of the hawkish Likud to create a new centrist party, Kadima. Sharon intended to follow up on his unilateral Gaza pullout last summer with additional moves to solidify Israel's political and security position. Olmert, 60, followed Sharon out of Likud, then stepped seamlessly into his positions as acting premier and Kadima leader.
Olmert insisted he is prepared for negotiations with the Palestinians but said they must first stop attacks and dismantle violent groups -- the same demands Sharon made of moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas even before the Islamic militant group Hamas won parliamentary elections and formed a government.
Israel has declared a boycott of the new Palestinian government, labeling Hamas, which has sent dozens of suicide bombers into Israel but largely adhered to a year-old cease-fire, a terror group.
Abbas appealed to Olmert to resume peace talks with him immediately. ''You have a serious partner. We are a partner for negotiations," Abbas told the Israeli daily Maariv in an interview published yesterday.