Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni could become Israel's first woman prime minister in 34 years after apparently winning the leadership of the ruling Kadima Party on Wednesday.

Livni already is the most powerful woman in the country, having served as foreign minister since 2006. The 50-year old also is Israel's lead negotiator in peace talks with the Palestinians that resumed last November.

Livni must form a new coalition within several weeks of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's resignation, which is expected in the coming days.

If Livni succeeds, she will be sworn in as Mr. Olmert's successor. If she fails, she will have to compete in a parliamentary election that polls suggest would be a close contest with Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

Before entering politics, Livni worked for the Mossad, Israel's secret service agency, and practiced law in a private firm for 10 years.

Golda Meir served as Israel's first and only woman prime minister to date from 1969 to 1974.

Livni was first elected to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, in 1999 as a member of the right-wing Likud party. She become a cabinet minister in 2001, and held several portfolios in the following years, including the Justice ministry.

In November 2005, she joined former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon in quitting the Likud party to form the new centrist party, Kadima. Before Sharon fell into a coma in January 2006, he gave Livni the role of foreign minister in his caretaker government.

Livni's departure from the Likud marked a significant break with her nationalistic heritage.

Her father, Eitan Livni, was a legendary member of the Jewish rebel movement, the Irgun, that fought British troops in Palestine in the 1940s. He was jailed by the British for sabotaging railway lines and other strategic installations.

After Israel's War of Independence, Eitan Livni joined the Herut party, a forerunner of the Likud, and served three terms as a Knesset member.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.