The next leader of Israel?

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s decision to quit after his centrist Kadima party chooses a new leader in September could trigger early national elections. These are some of his possible successors:

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Tzipi Livni

Foreign minister and chief negotiator with the Palestinians. Livni is seen as the likeliest successor from within the party. The most powerful woman in Israel since Prime Minister Golda Meir in the 1970s, Livni, 50, called on Olmert to quit last year after a scathing report on Israel’s 2006 war in Lebanon. He didn’t. Nor did she. Daughter of a prominent right-wing Zionist, she is a former intelligence agent. Like Olmert and former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, she left the right-wing Likud Party in 2005 to found Kadima.

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Ehud Barak

Defense minister and leader of the Labor Party, Kadima’s main coalition ally. Barak is not a member of parliament, so he cannot become prime minister without first winning a seat. A much-decorated commando, top general and former prime minister (1999 to 2001), Barak, 66, has called for Kadima to choose a new leader. When he campaigned last year for the Labor leadership, he said Olmert should quit if an inquiry faulted him over the Lebanon war. This year, it did. But Barak said he would call for Olmert to go “at a more convenient time.”

Benjamin Netanyahu

Prime minister from 1996 to 1999 and leader of the opposition Likud Party since Sharon, Olmert and others bolted to form Kadima. Educated in the United States, he became a decorated commando. As finance minister under Sharon, Netanyahu, 58, pursued economic reforms that angered the left but are credited by many for spurring growth. Tops many polls as likely winner if parliamentary elections, not due until 2010, are called early.

Shaul Mofaz

Transport minister and a former army chief and defense minister. Mofaz, 60, is known for his tough tactics in crushing a Palestinian uprising that erupted after peace talks failed in 2000. The Iranian-born military man has launched his own campaign for the Kadima party leadership.

Source: Reuters