September 17, 2008

Israel’s Ruling Party Choosing New Leader


JERUSALEM - Members of Israel's ruling party will head for the polls today to elect a new leader, pitting a top peace negotiator against a tough-talking former general in a race that could have profound implications for the future of the nation's political center.

Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has pledged to resign in the face of mounting corruption charges once the new Kadima party leader is elected. His successor will be charged with guiding peace negotiations with the Palestinians that have shown few signs of progress, as well as tentative but ongoing talks with Syria.

The two top candidates, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, are in many ways a study in contrasts.

Mofaz is a career military man who, as army chief of staff, oversaw Israel's efforts to suppress the Palestinian intifada that broke out in the fall of 2000. He hasn't revealed much about his views on either the Palestinian or Syrian talks, but has spoken harshly about Iranian nuclear ambitions and recently courted controversy by predicting that a military confrontation with Tehran was inevitable.

Livni is hardly a natural dove; she was a lifelong member of the right-wing Likud who followed her mentor, Ariel Sharon, when he broke with the party in 2005 and formed Kadima. But as foreign minister under Olmert, she has been in charge of the talks with the Palestinian Authority aimed at a two-state solution, and her strength as a party and government leader would partially hinge on the outcome of those talks.

The two other candidates, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit and Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, are expected to receive only small fractions of the vote.

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