Race For Israel's Next Leader Heating Up

It is coming down to the wire in Israel where voters will go to the polls Tuesday to pick a new prime minister. With the stakes so high the battle has given Israelis a chance to make history, one way or the other.

With his lead in the polls small - and shrinking - former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has campaigned as a hardliner, who says the war in Gaza ended too soon, with unfinished business, reports CBS News correspondent Richard Roth from Jerusalem.

"We will bring down the Hamas government," he said recently on the campaign trail.

But with rockets from Gaza still falling on Israel, he hasn't said how he would do that.

His closest opponent is Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, billing herself as a "different" sort of leader in Israel's male and macho politics, Roth reports. But she's promising what amounts to business as usual.

"(We should) continue the peace process according to the parameters that we discussed and agreed upon with our Palestinian partners while acting against terror and against Hamas," Livni says.

In a campaign that's had no debates, the two front-runners have left Israelis with a choice, as one partisan put it, between a man they know but don't like, and woman they like, but don't really know.

The differences haven't excited voters and public opinion polls aren't predicting a clear winner. But what the polls do show is that Israeli voters, worried about security, are turning to the right.

That's propelled a politician from the fringe into third place. Former nightclub bouncer and soviet emigre Avigdor Lieberman is suddenly in the limelight, with his supporters applauding him as a straight-talking champion of Israeli nationalism, and others calling his anti-Arab rhetoric racist.

"He has simple answers to complex issues," says one such detractor Yaron Ezrahi. "Let's get rid of the Israeli Arabs and we'll have a clean state."

But with no one likely to win a mandate or majority in this week's election, whoever leads Israel next will have a hard time ignoring Lieberman.
By Richard Roth