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Israel to Replace Olmert as Uncertainty Grows Over Peace Process

Members of Israel's ruling, centrist Kadima party will head to the polls Wednesday to pick a new leader to replace Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is under investigation for corruption, plans to step down after his centrist Kadima party votes for a new leader Wednesday.

The change of leadership occurs as Israelis face growing uncertainty over the future of the peace process with the Palestinians, the threat of Iran's nuclear program, and the militant group Hamas' control of the Gaza Strip.

Israel is likely heading for general elections in the coming months and analysts say concerns about security will push Israelis to vote for a more right-wing candidate, possibly the Likud party's Benjamin Netanyahu, who is perceived as strong on security.

In these Kadima party primary elections, the front-runners are foreign minister Tzipi Livni and transportation minister Shaul Mofaz, a former chief of staff and defense minister. Both have pledged to be tough on security issues, saying they will not tolerate a nuclear Iran or militants in the Palestinian territories.

Opinion polls have shown Livni in the lead, despite concerns by some who say she does not have enough security experience.

Still, some Israelis interviewed on the streets Tuesday said they see Livni, with her clean reputation and experience in negotiating with the Palestinians, as a last hope for peace.

This Jewish settler who says she was removed from a settlement in Gaza, tells VOA she is pessimistic about prospects for peace as she prepares to cast her ballot Wednesday.

She says she will give Tzipi Livni a chance, but says she does not think there will be peace here in 200 years.

Analysts say it will be weeks before it is known what new direction Israel's leadership will take. Whoever wins these primaries will have to set up a new governing coalition.

The United States wants to see a peace agreement by the end of the year, but there is little hope that will happen. Both sides report no signs of progress.

Livni has cautioned against rushing into a premature deal.

The Palestinians say an agreement must address all of their long-standing concerns, which include the right of return for Arabs displaced from their places of origin in Israel, the status of Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, and Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.