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Livni favored in Israeli party race

The main party in Israel's ruling coalition will choose a new leader today, and polls indicate the winner will likely be the country's foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, who says her goal is to form a new government without general elections and charge ahead on peace talks with Palestinians.

Her main rival, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, a former general who is viewed as more hawkish, says his own polling shows him to be the likely victor.

One of them must get more than 40 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.

The selection of a new head of the party, Kadima, was prompted by police investigations of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on allegations that he took money illegally while he was mayor of Jerusalem and industry minister. Olmert has promised to step down, but is expected to stay on as a caretaker prime minister until a new coalition is formed.

Olmert is keen to reach a historic peace agreement with the Palestinians before he finally ends his term.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, whose authority is now limited to the West Bank, met with Olmert on Tuesday night in Jerusalem.

After the two-hour meeting, Israeli spokesman Mark Regev said only that the core issues of the conflict were discussed. He did not elaborate, but those issues are known to include borders, Palestinian refugees, Jewish settlements and Jerusalem.

An Israeli official said earlier Tuesday that Olmert believes an agreement “is doable” and that with creativity and flexibility, mutual understandings could be reached on all the core issues, including borders, refugees, security and the future of Jerusalem.

But Abbas and other Palestinian officials have been sounding pessimistic, saying the gaps are wide and they do not think any agreement can be reached this year.

Much about today's primary and its aftermath is still up in the air, partly because Kadima is less than 3 years old. It was formed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon before he fell into a coma caused by a stroke in early 2006. Sharon had been a leader of the right-wing Likud party but, like Livni and Olmert, who also began on the right, became convinced that the only way for Israel to maintain its status as a Jewish democratic state was to end its occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, where a total of nearly 4million Palestinians live.

The Associated Press contributed.
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