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Hardliner elected president of Israel PM's party

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

An Israeli deputy minister and leader of the radical right in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud has been elected as the head of the party's presidency, reports said on Wednesday.

The election of 42-year-old Danny Danon as Likud president during an initial party vote on Tuesday night enabled him to score political points against the premier, Israeli media said.

The role is largely symbolic, but belies the growing influence of the hardline settler lobby within the rightwing party.

Although Netanyahu will remain as head of the party, members will on Sunday 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.

Danon, who serves as deputy defence minister, is widely expected to be voted in as chairman of the central committee, which decides on all the key policy issues.

Leadership of the Likud bureau, which sets the party's ideology, is expected to go to deputy foreign minister Zeev Elkin, another party rebel.

And one of the frontrunners for the chairmanship of the Likud secretariat is Miri Regev, another rebel from the party's far right.

Danon sparked uproar this month when he came out against a Palestinian state -- a position firmly at odds with Netanyahu's public stance on the issue.

"If Secretary Kerry, whose efforts we support, were to pitch a tent halfway between here and Ramallah - that's 15 minutes away driving time - I'm in it, I'm in the tent," Netanyahu told the Washington Post last week in reference to US Secretary of State John Kerry.

"And I'm committed to stay in the tent and negotiate for as long as it takes to work out a solution of peace and security between us and the Palestinians."

But Danon said the government was not serious about it and that moves to create one would be opposed by most of the coalition.

Netanyahu appears to be facing a wider revolt on the two-state solution, after Israeli ministers began openly expressing their opposition to the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

Analyst Yossi Verter said in Haaretz newspaper that "Netanyahu now finds himself in the worst possible situation for a party chairman: He's not a player. He doesn't count".

Commentators pointed out the prime minister had not even presented his candidacy for president of the party at the Likud conference, as Danon's victory seemed assured.

Faced with this opposition, Netanyahu could even quit Likud, as did former premier Ariel Sharon, who exited the same party to create the centrist Kadima in 2005, wrote Verter.

"It's hard to know what he's thinking: Either he has lost his fighting spirit and is giving up, or in his heart, he knows that in the next election, he won't be running at the head of this party," he added.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130626/hardliner-elected-president-israel-pms-party