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Monday April 26, 2010 1:03 PM (EST+7)
Netanyahu moves to keep Likud far right at bay

Read more: Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud, Israeli politics, Israeli right

JERUSALEM, April 26 (Reuters) - Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has moved to delay any leadership challenge from the far right in his Likud party as the United States tries to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The Likud's 2,500-strong Central Committee votes on Thursday on a proposal backed by Netanyahu to amend the right-wing party's constitution so that elections to its institutions, due this year, can be delayed for up to another two years.

Israeli political commentators said Netanyahu feared that far-right Likud members opposed to US-led efforts to achieve a land-for-peace deal culminating in a Palestinian state would gain ground within the party if elections were held soon.

It's a referendum on a disengagement from Jerusalem, Moshe Feiglin, head of a far-right faction in the Likud, said on Monday, referring to Thursday's Central Committee vote.

Netanyahu's strategic aim in delaying elections to party institutions, Feiglin told Israel Radio, was to keep loyalists in key positions so they could back any compromise over Jerusalem, an issue at the heart of the Middle East conflict.

In remarks to Likud cabinet ministers on Sunday, Netanyahu said he was seeking an internal election delay because it is very important that we have a reasonable amount of time to mount a party membership drive and arrange a convention.

The amendment needs a two-thirds majority to pass and Thursday's vote was being widely billed in the Israeli media as a test of Netanyahu's currently strong standing within the Likud, the main party in his governing coalition.

The issue of Israeli housing construction in and near East Jerusalem, which Israel captured along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip in a 1967 war, is at the center of US efforts to revive peace talks suspended since December 2008.

Netanyahu has said that he would not curb the building of homes for Jews anywhere in Jerusalem, a city Israel considers its capital -- a claim that is not recognized internationally.

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of the state they intend to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and President Mahmoud Abbas has said peace negotiations cannot resume without an Israeli settlement freeze.

A US Middle East envoy is due back in the region next week to follow up on three days of inconclusive talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders last week on getting indirect peace negotiations under way. (Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Dominic Evans)







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