Likud's lurch to the right deals blow to hopes for Palestinian state
Hardliners in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party have been elected into key positions in its governing institutions, complicating any possible concessions to the Palestinians.
Deputy Defence Minister Danny Danon, an outspoken opponent of a two-state solution, won the vote for the position of chairman of the party's Central Committee, a Likud spokeswoman said.
Danon took 2,230 votes, against 442 for his nearest rival.
Another hardliner, Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin, takes over the Likud bureau, which outlines party ideology.
More than 80 per cent 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 it and casting his vote in a ballot box brought to his Jerusalem home.
The final votes were cast on Sunday, as US Secretary of State John Kerry ended 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 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, which cited a senior party official who said 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, 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's top diplomat himself hailed "real progress".
Likud MPs and the party faithful have been increasingly unhappy with Netanyahu in the wake of its disappointing showing in a January general election.
Just before the election, Netanyahu said the party would run on a joint electoral list with the hardline Yisrael Beitenu party. But the joint list, which had a combined 42 seats in the 120-seat parliament before the vote, secured only 31 Knesset seats.