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Israel PM faces dilemma after Likud lurches further right

JERUSALEM: The victory of hard-liners and the sidelining of moderates within Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud does not augur well for the Israeli premier ahead of January elections, commentators warned on Tuesday.
Results published late Monday after a vote to choose Likud’s list for the January 22 elections, showed a victory for hard-liners, with lawmakers who have made a name for themselves by supporting settlement and opposing a Palestinian state looking certain to win a parliamentary seat.
Among the new faces was Netanyahu’s nemesis, Moshe Feiglin, a far-right activist who heads the settler lobby within Likud, while others like Danny Danon, a staunch backer of the settlements and one of the most hard-line MPs in the party, were catapulted to near the top of the list.
At the same time, three Likud ministers known for their moderation — Dan Meridor, Benny Begin and Michael Eitan — didn’t make it into the first 35 names on the list, making it highly unlikely they would secure a parliamentary spot.
“The list elected yesterday looks like it was dictated by settlers and the extreme right wing,” wrote Sima Kadmon in the top-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper.
“One of the most rightwing MPs in the faction, Danny Danon, is in fifth place... Moshe Feiglin, the man whom the prime minister treated as an outcast for years... will be in the Knesset,” she wrote.
Netanyahu has worked tirelessly to try to prevent Feiglin from securing a viable spot on the list in previous primaries, but Monday’s ballot saw Feiglin being voted into the 14th slot, assuring him a spot in the next parliament, or Knesset.
Even the Israel HaYom freesheet, widely known for its support for Netanyahu, ran with a headline admitting that the party had taken a lurch to the right: “Likud shifts to the right.”
Commentators said the new makeup of the list showed a departure from the traditional liberal political values of the Likud, which was inspired by Revisionist Zionism and represented in the current government by Begin, son of the late prime minister Menahem Begin.
“It’s one thing that they pushed Meridor and Eitan out, who are considered ‘fastidious leftwingers’... but kicking Benny Begin off the list is the strongest expression of the fact that a new Likud was born last night,” wrote Mazal Mualem in the rival Maariv daily.
Begin drew the ire of the settler lobby earlier this year after he backed a Supreme Court decision calling for the evacuation of the Migron settler outpost which was built on private Palestinian land.
“I see the Likud list and it makes me feel bad,” said Zehava Gal-On, head of the leftwing Meretz party.
“We see how settlers have turned the Likud into a nationalistic, extremist rightwing list; how the liberal Likud has passed away today,” she told the Ynet news website.
Even Labour leader Shelly Yachimovich described the list as invoking a sense of “desperation and hopelessness” and said it demonstrated a shift toward extremism.
Commentators warned that the change could prove to be dangerous for Netanyahu, who has until now been in pole position to win the election with Likud and form the next coalition government with his ultranationalist and religious allies.
“The Likud list is bad news for Netanyahu, who has been dragged, despite himself, to the fringes of the rightwing. This veer to the right could cost the Likud at the polling stations,” wrote Yediot commentator Nahum Barnea.
“For the first time since elections were announced, it now seems as if there is no certainty that their results are a foregone conclusion,” he said.
The party’s shift to the right, coupled with its decision to run on a joint electoral list with the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, could see it losing the potential support of voters disaffected with the center-right Kadima party, Barnea said.
The two parties currently hold 42 seats in the outgoing ruling coalition, but a poll published in Maariv on Sunday showed that if an election were held now, the list would only win 37 seats, compared with the 43 projected in survey taken on October 29.
The current coalition, which includes Likud, Yisrael Beitenu and various ultra-Orthodox and nationalist parties, holds 66 of the 120 seats in the Knesset, with recent surveys saying the bloc could take 70 if elections were held now.

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