Israel's opposition Likud party has selected a hawkish slate of candidates for upcoming parliamentary elections, making any movement toward peace with the country's Arab neighbors increasingly unlikely if the party wins next month's vote.
By making the Likud appear more extreme, Tuesday's primary results may provide a boost to the centrist Kadima party, which favors pressing ahead with current U.S.-backed peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Kadima has been falling further behind its Likud rival in recent polls.
The Likud has traditionally been a hard-line party supportive of the religious West Bank settlement movement and skeptical about withdrawing from captured territory as part of a peace agreement.
Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu had hoped to present a more mainstream list of candidates to bolster support among the general public ahead of the Feb. 10 national elections. To that end, he supported a number of popular ex-generals, politicians and other figures with broad appeal, while trying to marginalize more hard-line candidates.
But party members rejected many of the newcomers and largely chose candidates with uncompromising views.
Those include Benny Begin, son of former prime minister Menahem Begin, who left the Likud in the 1990s because he believed it was too moderate, and later left politics altogether.
Extremist settler among candidates
Another is Moshe Feiglin, an extremist settler whose theocratic platform calls for barring Arabs from Israel's parliament, encouraging non-Jews to emigrate and pulling Israel out of the United Nations. He is viewed as extreme even by many Israeli settlers, and Netanyahu had openly campaigned against him.
Feiglin's success was widely seen as a setback for the Likud leader, though Netanyahu called the candidates "the best team that any party in our country can put forward."
"The people who were deliberating between Kadima and the Likud now know that if they vote for the Likud they will vote in ... people who are from the right-wing fringe of the right-wing fringe," said Haim Ramon, a Cabinet minister from Kadima.
'Economic peace' proposal
Netanyahu served as prime minister from 1996 to 1999, and peace efforts suffered during his tenure. Netanyahu says he has learned from past mistakes and, if elected, wants to form a broad coalition with moderate partners. No party has ever won an outright majority, making coalitions the rule.
Netanyahu does not reject peace negotiations outright, but has proposed what he calls "economic peace" with the Palestinians, an alternative plan that would see Israel construct factories and create jobs for Palestinians while maintaining its military occupation of the West Bank indefinitely.
Polls in recent weeks have showed the Likud leading Kadima, headed by moderate Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who has served as chief negotiator with the Palestinians. Kadima's popularity has suffered because of the legal entanglements of several of its senior members, chiefly outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is being forced from office because of a series of corruption investigations.