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Israel PM's Likud party hardens against him

Benjamin Netanyahu (centre) chairs the weekly cabinet cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday. Hardliners within the Israeli prime minister's Likud are poised to seize key positions in the party's governing institutions on Sunday in a move likely to curb any concessions vis-a-vis the Palestinians.AFP

Hardliners within Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud are poised to seize key positions in the party's governing institutions on Sunday in a move likely to curb any concessions vis-a-vis the Palestinians.

The 3,600 members of the Likud Central Committee were voting for the leadership of the party's governing institutions which were likely to fall into the hands of activists who firmly oppose the creation of a Palestinian state.

Voting, which began at 0700 GMT and was to last 12 hours, was taking place as US Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up four days of intensive shuttle diplomacy in a bid to draw Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

Although Netanyahu will remain party leader, members will choose who will preside over three key institutions -- the central committee, the Likud bureau, and the secretariat -- in a vote likely to highlight exactly how much of a threat the premier faces from party rebels.

The main player is Deputy Defence Minister Danny Danon who is likely to be elected chairman of the central committee.

In an initial vote on Tuesday, Danon took control of the Likud party's conference, a largely symbolic role but one which highlighted the growing power of the rebels.

So popular is Danon within the party that Netanyahu quietly withdrew his candidacy for the role rather than face defeat by his young rival, press reports said.

Two other rebels from the far-right flank also look likely to win election, with Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin set to take over the Likud bureau, which sets the party's ideology, and Miri Regev a frontrunner for chairing the secretariat.

Danon, who openly opposes the idea of a two-state solution and is one of the most vocal backers of the settlers, agreed he had differences with the premier over certain issues.

"The prime minister has no rival within Likud but it is legitimate to differ over principles and ideology," Danon told Israel radio on Sunday.

"There are many who think like me about the idea of the two-state solution," he said.

The young politician recently sparked uproar when he said Netanyahu's government was not serious about a Palestinian state and that if it were put to a vote, most Likud ministers as well as other key coalition partners would oppose it.

His remarks espoused a position firmly at odds with Netanyahu's public stance on the two-state solution and came before Kerry's attempt to get the peace process back on track after a hiatus of nearly three years.

Some pundits have suggested Danon could one day succeed Netanyahu as head of Likud.