Danny Danon
Danny Danon Israel news photo: Flash 90

Devoted nationalists within Likud are poised to seize key positions in the party's governing institutions on Sunday in a move likely to curb any concessions vis-a-vis the Palestinian Authority.

The 3,600 members of the Likud Central Committee began voting in the morning for the leadership of three key institutions which were likely to fall into the hands of activists who firmly oppose the creation of a Palestinian state.

The vote was taking place as US Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up four days of intensive shuttle diplomacy in a bid to draw Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, noted AFP.

Although Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will remain party leader, members are choosing who will preside over the central committee, the Likud bureau, and the secretariat in a vote expected to reveal how much of a threat the premier faces from party rebels.

The main player is Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon who is likely to be elected chairman of the central committee.

In an initial vote on Tuesday, Danon, 42, took control of the Likud party's conference, a largely symbolic role but one which highlighted the growing power of the rebels.

So popular is Danon within the party that Netanyahu quietly withdrew his candidacy for the role rather than face defeat by his young rival, press reports said.

Two other rebels from the far-right flank also look likely to win election on Sunday.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin is set to take over the Likud bureau, which outlines the party's ideology, and Miri Regev is a frontrunner for chairing the secretariat.

Danon, who openly opposes the two-state solution and is one of the most vocal backers of the settlers, admitted he had differences with Netanyahu over certain issues.

"The prime minister has no rival within Likud but it is legitimate to differ over principles and ideology," Danon told Voice of Israel radio on Sunday.

"There are many who think like me about the idea of the two-state solution," he said.

Danon recently sparked uproar when he said that 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.

His remarks espoused a position firmly at odds with Netanyahu's public stance on the two-state solution and came before Kerry's attempt to get the peace process back on track after a hiatus of nearly three years.

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."

Danon echoed him and said if Netanyahu agreed to a deal "he would have to win the confidence of both the party and the people through elections or a referendum."

But he said it was unlikely that Netanyahu would do such a thing.

"Some people are hoping that Netanyahu will do the work of the left, but that dream won't happen," he said.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who serves as Israel's chief peace negotiator, quickly denounced Danon's remarks earlier this month.

"The prime minister must decide if he is going to allow 'Danonism' to control the debate or if he will let forces that understand that a diplomatic solution is in Israel's interest make a decision," she said.

Likud MKs and party faithful have been increasingly unhappy with Netanyahu in the wake of the disappointing elections results in January's general elections.

Just before the vote, Netanyahu announced that 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 had 42 seats in the 120 seat parliament, suffered a major defeat in January and only managed to secure 31 mandates. Current polls show it receiving even less than that. 

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