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Hardliners gain power in Israel PM's Likud party

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Israeli Deputy Defence Minister Danny Danon (R) is greeted by a supporter during the Likud party election in Jerusalem on June 30, 2013. Hardliners in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud were elected into key positions in the party's governing institutions early Monday, in a move that could create difficulties on making concessions to the Palestinians.AFP

Hardliners in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud were elected into key positions in the party's governing institutions early Monday, in a move that could create difficulties on making concessions to the Palestinians.

Deputy Defence Minister Danny Danon, an outspoken opponent of the two-state solution, won the vote for the position of chairman of the party's Central Committee, a Likud spokeswoman said

Another hardliner, Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin, takes over the Likud bureau which outlines party ideology.

Some 78 percent of the 3,600 members of the Likud Central Committee took part in the vote, the spokeswoman said, with Likud chairman Netanyahu distancing himself from the process and voting from a ballot brought to his residence in Jerusalem.

Ballots were cast on Sunday, as US Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up four days of intensive shuttle diplomacy in a bid to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

Netanyahu remains party leader, but his power within the Likud has diminished with rebels Danon and Elkin securing their new positions.

"Netanyahu lost the Likud", read a headline in top-selling Yediot Aharonot daily, citing a senior party official who said that the premier failed to find a candidate who would run for any of the party's key posts.

Hardliner Miri Regev, who was vying for chair of the Likud's secretariat, lost out to Transportation Minister Israel Katz, who has held the position for 10 years.

Danon, 42, had already taken control of the Likud party's conference in a vote last week, a largely symbolic role but one which highlighted the growing power of the rebels.

The deputy minister 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.

Elkin also warned that if Netanyahu were to push ahead with moves to create a Palestinian state, it would create "a deep split within Likud".

A senior Palestinian official said Kerry's mission to restart peace talks ended on Sunday without a breakthrough, although the US Secretary of State himself hailed "real progress".

Likud MPs and the party faithful have been increasingly unhappy with Netanyahu in the wake of the disappointing results in a January general election.

Just before the January vote, Netanyahu announced the party would run on a joint electoral list with the hardline Yisrael Beitenu of former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman.

But the joint list, which initially had 42 seats in the 120 seat parliament, suffered a major defeat at the ballot box, only managing to secure 31 Knesset seats.

Israeli media on Monday said that Danon, who was opposed to the unification with Yisrael Beitenu -- which Netanyahu presented as a temporary move ahead of the election -- would now use his new position to prevent its finalisation.