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Israel's next big hope

Livni's victory as head of the ruling party help cut the despair among Israelis.

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With peace prospects in poor shape, Israelis might be ready for a new type of leader. Tzipi Livni, who was elected Wednesday to head Israel's ruling party, has led negotiations with the Palestinians. If anything, her optimism and an eagerness to clean up Israeli politics could cut the somber mood in the Middle East.

Like the stalemate itself between Israel and the Palestinians, Ms. Livni has a thin reed on which to build peace. She won the contest to head the Kadima party by a slim margin. Only about half of eligible voters cast ballots. In order to become prime minister, she must cobble together a coalition with other parties that hold very different ideas of Israel's future.

Not to pile on bad news, but there's also a cloud over her party. Is Kadima, which means forward in Hebrew, really committed to an independent Palestinian state?

Founded three years ago by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the party split off from the right-wing Likud party over a recognition that Israel could not hold onto the West Bank and Gaza Strip. To keep a grip on a Palestinian population that would eventually outnumber Israelis was to accept a demographic time bomb and face a strategic disaster if more Arab states don't accept Israel. It would be better, the party reasoned, to let the Palestinians fend for themselves in limbo, build a border wall, and cope with any suicide bombers who slip through.

The first step in Kadima's new approach was withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlers from Gaza. That backfired when the Islamic militant group Hamas took over, leaving the government on the West Bank, led by Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, as a weak negotiating partner.

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