JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Pro-settler hardliners swept a vote on Monday held by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, effectively tossing four of his closest allies and backers of Middle East diplomacy off a list of candidates running with him in a January 22 election.
Party members ranked candidates on a list for the national poll to determine which of dozens already nominated could actually be elected to parliament.
The top 15 chosen, or those most likely to become or be re-elected as lawmakers, overwhelmingly included ultra-right champions of Jewish settlement on land Palestinians want for a state.
Netanyahu is predicted to win re-election in the national election in two months’ time. But being surrounded by more hardline lawmakers than previously could toughen his policies on such issues as Iran’s nuclear program which Israel has vowed to stop, and diplomacy with the Palestinians, already frozen since 2010.
The main losers in Monday’s vote or those who garnered too few votes from some 100,000 party faithful to guarantee re-election, were Dan Meridor, Benjamin Begin, son of late Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and Avraham Dichter, in addition to Michael Eitan, a rare civil libertarian in Likud.
Among the winners were ex-general Moshe Yaalon, currently a minister for strategic affairs, seen as a possible successor to the more moderate Ehud Barak as defense minister.
“With such extremists Netanyahu could have problems,” Roni Milo, a former Likud cabinet minister, quipped in a video interview with Ynet’s news Web site.
Netanyahu, though, had no immediate comment.
Likud’s balloting had been fraught with tension, also for technical reasons when computer malfunctions forced the vote to stretch into a second day.
Left-wing and centrist parties in Israel assailed Likud’s candidate rankings. The centrist Kadima party headed by former general Shaul Mofaz charged in a statement the right-wing party he also once belonged to “has now lost its way and been swayed to the extreme margins of the political map”.
Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Jon Hemming