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Israeli Prime Minister Urged to Keep Promise to Quit

There is political turmoil in Israel after the ruling party elected a new leader. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

A day after she was elected leader of Israel's ruling Kadima party, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni reminded Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that he had promised to step down.

"We have a country to run," Livni told party members, "and we don't have a lot of time to fool around."

Mr. Olmert had promised to resign over a corruption scandal as soon as Kadima chose a new leader. But unless he takes a leave of absence, Israeli law requires him to stay on as caretaker prime minister until Livni forms a new government. That could take about two months and it is not a done deal.

The right-wing ultra-Orthodox Shas party, a current coalition member, is reluctant to join Livni because it opposes her plans to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians that would include relinquishing parts of Jerusalem.

Zalman Shoval of the opposition Likud party says Livni also faces unrest in her Kadima party because she defeated hawkish former army chief Shaul Mofaz by just one percentage point.

"Her task will be very difficult because as it turned out, 50 percent more or less of her own party didn't support her in these primary elections," he said. "So she will try to set up a government, but it looks [like] she'll have to overcome quite serious obstacles."

If Livni fails to form a new government there would be early elections next year, probably in March.

Prime Minister Olmert could remain in office until then, giving him more time to try and reshape his legacy: He would rather be remembered as the Israeli leader who made peace with the Palestinians than the one who resigned over a corruption scandal.