World News

FACTBOX: Contenders to lead Israel after February 10 election

(Reuters) - Israel holds a parliamentary election on February 10 after a Gaza war that opinion polls showed did little to change a political picture portraying right-winger Benjamin Netanyahu as the country’s next leader.

Following are leading contenders to replace Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is stepping down over a corruption inquiry:

* BENJAMIN NETANYAHU. Netanyahu, who threw his support behind the Gaza offensive, has maintained a lead in opinion polls, placing him in position to form a coalition government.

Netanyahu, now 59, served as prime minister from 1996 to 1999. Educated in the United States, he became a decorated commando. As finance minister under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from 2003 to 2005, Netanyahu, pursued economic reforms that are credited by many for economic growth. He has pledged to pursue peace talks with the Palestinians but to shift the focus away from territorial issues and concentrate on shoring up their economy.

* TZIPI LIVNI. Foreign minister and leader of the ruling Kadima party, Livni is a close second in polls. The most powerful woman in Israel since Prime Minister Golda Meir in the 1970s, Livni, 50, oversaw Israeli diplomacy in the Gaza war, defending its offensive against international criticism and signing a security understanding with the United States on preventing Hamas from rearming.

The daughter of a prominent right-wing Zionist, she is a former intelligence agent and has been Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians.

* EHUD BARAK. As defense Minister and leader of the Labor Party, Kadima’s main coalition ally, Barak’s management of the Gaza offensive has won wide public support in Israel. Opinion polls show support for Labor increased during the war but that it is still lagging in third place. A much-decorated commando, top general and prime minister from 1999 to 2001, Barak is 66. His premiership ended in an unsuccessful attempt to achieve peace with Syria, and the start of a Palestinian uprising.

Jerusalem newsroom; editing by Samia Nakhoul