Israel's Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, has won a narrow victory in the ruling centrist Kadima party's primary election, putting her on track to become Israel's first female Prime Minister in more than three decades. Ms. Livni will replace Ehud Olmert, who is stepping down as he faces corruption investigations. VOA's Jerusalem correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Livni's election is raising hopes among some here who believe her willingness to pursue peace negotiations is the last hope for an agreement with the Palestinians.
The former intelligence operative, lawyer, and mother of two sons, is Israel's top negotiator in the current round of U.S. brokered peace talks. As a moderate, she won support from those in the party who want a negotiated settlement. At the same time, she won favor among some on the right for saying she will not hesitate to use military action if necessary.
Talks have been stuck on old issues including the status of Jerusalem, the Palestinians' claim to a right of return to lands seized by Israel, and Jewish settlements.
Analysts say Israel's ability to negotiate has been undermined by the turmoil in its internal politics.
In her acceptance remarks Thursday, Livni indicated she will waste no time putting a new government in place.
Livni says the mission now is to create stability in the government to confront security threats, to take advantage of opportunities for peace and to deal with economic instability.
The centrist Kadima Party must work to regain the trust of Israeli voters at large. Confidence has been damaged by the corruption allegations against Mr. Olmert, lack of progress in the peace talks, and other issues.
Some Palestinians welcomed Livni's election on Thursday. Mahdi Abdul Hadi, head of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, a research organization in Jerusalem, tells VOA Livni's experience in dealing with Arabs is viewed by some Palestinians as a sign of hope for the peace process.
"She has been very much acquainted with the details of the whole issue and she comes across that a new chapter in the vision of leaders among Israelis," he said. "She has been received warmly in the Gulf and she has been recognized as a new face, a new leader, a new image for Israel in the region. How fast she can contain and maintain that presence and contact, and build up on it, has yet to be seen."
Analysts say galvanizing support among Israelis will not be easy for Livni, who has to strike a balance between improving relations with Arabs and keeping right-wingers at home happy.
Late Wednesday, exit polls had shown her winning by a large margin. Official results on Thursday narrowed that victory to a few hundred votes, something analysts say indicates her party will likely face a strong challenge if it has to face the increasingly popular, right-wing Likud party led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the coming months.
Livni has only a few weeks to put together a governing coalition or the country will be forced to hold early general elections.