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As Israel's Olmert falters, a new star rises

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is increasingly seen as the likely successor to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The negotiator: Tzipi Livni, seen with Prime Minister Olmert (r) at a June 1 cabinet meeting, oversees Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Baz Ratner, Pool

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One of the strongest barometers of Ehud Olmert's expected exit as Israeli prime minister is the extent to which much of the national media's attention has shifted from him to his foreign minister, Tzipi Livni.

Ms. Livni, who is only the second woman to serve as minister of foreign affairs in Israel's history and is not yet 50, has been gaining in stature in the decade since she entered politics, but most notably since the founding of the Kadima Party in late 2004. And as Mr. Olmert's star has fallen amid recent testimony alleging that he took thousands of dollars in cash-stuffed envelopes from a US supporter, Livni's has risen precisely because she is seen as the "Mrs. Clean" of Israeli politics.

"Any day that passes with Kadima not acting to remove Olmert is a day of extreme national and even international irresponsibility," Ari Shavit, Israeli opinionmaker and columnist, told foreign reporters. "Olmert is Israel's Nixon, with one exception. Nixon was a great statesman." Olmert, recently returned from a week-long trip to the US, has provided no indication thus far that he will heed calls to step aside. But Kadima could force him to do so, by holding primaries to choose a new party leader. So could Knesset members as a whole, by calling for a no-confidence vote that would bring about national elections, more than a year ahead of the scheduled ballot in March 2010.

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