Israel’s opposition Likud party has selected a hawkish slate of candidates for upcoming parliamentary elections.
This would make peace moves with Israel’s Arab neighbors increasingly unlikely if Likud wins the Feb. 10 national vote.
Leader Benjamin Netanyahu hoped to present a more mainstream list of candidates to broaden his party’s support among Israelis.
But party members voting in primary elections ending early yesterday preferred candidates with uncompromising views on territorial withdrawals.
Those include Benny Begin, son of former prime minister Menahem Begin. Another is Moshe Feiglin, an extremist settler whose platform calls for denying non-Jews the right to vote for Israel’s parliament.
Cabinet minister Haim Ramon of the rival Kadima Party says the Likud’s new list shows it is a “party of the extreme right.” Recent polls show the Likud leading Kadima.
“It will not be possible to conduct a diplomatic process or even talk about a diplomatic process with such a hawkish list,” said Yoav Krakovsky, Israel Radio’s political affairs.
The most recent opinion poll, published last week, predicted Likud would win 35 of parliament’s 120 seats, compared with 26 for its closest rival, Kadima, led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Although candidate lists are an important factor in Israeli elections, the contests largely hinge on the popularity of party leaders — and Netanyahu’s ratings in opinion surveys have been high.
Political analyst Hanan Crystal said Netanyahu had hoped a less hawkish profile for Likud would help the party capture more center ground from Kadima, which has been slipping in the polls since October.
“Netanyahu understands that battle lines with Kadima have been drawn in the fight for ... the 10 to 15 parliamentary seats determined by votes from the moderate right and center,” Crystal said on Israel Radio.
Netanyahu put a positive face on the results, calling the list “the best possible” in a speech to party loyalists and vowing to “improve security, strengthen the economy and continue a responsible diplomatic process” with Palestinians.
Netanyahu, prime minister from 1996 to 1999, has said he would focus on strengthening the Palestinian economy rather than on territorial issues that current US-brokered statehood talks have failed to resolve.
Tzahi Hanegbi, a senior Kadima legislator and campaign strategist, said the “real Likud” had emerged from the party election.
“Netanyahu’s dream team became his nightmare. The stars are out and the rebels are in,” Hanegbi said.
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