JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel’s opposition Likud party has selected a hawkish slate of candidates for upcoming parliamentary elections, results showed Tuesday, making peace moves with Israel’s Arab neighbors increasingly unlikely if the front-running party wins a Feb. 10 national vote. However, by making the Likud appear more extreme, the primary’s results may provide a boost to the centrist Kadima party, which favors pressing ahead with current U.S.-backed peace negotiations and which has been falling further behind its Likud rival in recent surveys.
The Likud has traditionally been a hardline party supportive of the religious West Bank settlement movement and skeptical about withdrawing from captured territory as part of a peace agreement.
But leader Benjamin Netanyahu had hoped to present a more mainstream list of candidates to bolster his party’s support among the general public. To that end, he supported a number of popular ex-generals, politicians and other figures with broad appeal, while trying to marginalize more hardline candidates.
Party members voting in the primary election that ended early Tuesday rejected many of the newcomers and largely chose candidates with uncompromising views.
Those include Benny Begin, son of former prime minister Menahem Begin, who told Israel’s Army Radio on Tuesday that “there will be no (peace) agreement in the near future” because of Arab rejection of Israel. Begin left the Likud in the 1990s because he believed it was too moderate, and later left politics altogether.
Another is Moshe Feiglin, an extremist settler whose theocratic platform calls for barring Arabs from Israel’s parliament, encouraging non-Jews to emigrate and pulling Israel out of the United Nations. He is viewed as extreme even by many Israeli settlers, and his messianic ideology differs from the Likud’s traditionally secular, security-oriented outlook.
“Today we have chosen new leadership for Israel. This is the best team that any party in our country can put forward,” Netanyahu said after polls closed.
But Netanyahu had openly campaigned against Feiglin, and Likud officials suggested the party might still be able to use legal technicalities to bump him down to a lower spot on the list. But Feiglin’s success was widely seen as a setback for the Likud leader.
“The people who were deliberating between Kadima and the Likud now know that if they vote for the Likud they will vote in … people who are from the right-wing fringe of the right-wing fringe,” said Haim Ramon, a Cabinet minister from Kadima. Speaking on Army Radio, Ramon said that even if Netanyahu wants to push peace efforts with the Palestinians or Syria, his lawmakers would torpedo any such plans.
Netanyahu served as prime minister from 1996 to 1999, and peace efforts suffered during his tenure. Netanyahu says he has learned from past mistakes and, if elected, wants to form a broad coalition with moderate partners. No party has ever won an outright majority, making coalitions the rule.
Netanyahu does not reject peace negotiations outright, but has proposed what he calls “economic peace” with the Palestinians, an alternative plan that would see Israel construct factories and create jobs for Palestinians while maintaining its military occupation of the West Bank indefinitely.
Polls in recent weeks have showed the Likud leading Kadima, headed by moderate Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who has served as chief negotiator with the Palestinians. Kadima’s popularity has suffered because of the legal entanglements of several of its senior members, chiefly outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is being forced from office because of a series of corruption investigations.