Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won the Likud leadership primary on Tuesday, as expected, taking in 77 percent of the vote. The country's political mood is leaning his way and the polls say he will be elected to lead Israel for another term. But Netanyahu's achievement is clouded by the 23-percent showing by his rival, Moshe Feiglin.
Feiglin didn't expect to win the primary and succeed Netanyahu as the ruling party's leader. His goals are different. He wants to mobilize Likud to carry out the extreme right's ideology - expanding the settlements, preserving the outposts and thwarting a peace agreement with the Palestinians based on a division of the land into two states. The fear that Feiglin would get stronger made Netanyahu swerve to the right and look for ways to keep the lawbreakers in Migron and other illegal outposts on land stolen from Palestinians.
Now, after the face-off, the real struggle over Likud's image begins, in the run-up to the Likud primary for Knesset candidates. The candidates are being pressured to espouse radical right-wing positions for fear Feiglin's supporters will penalize them at the polls. Others are under pressure simply to expose their real positions, which they have concealed under a thin veneer of political and strategic moderation.
The first of the opportunists was Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar. His response to the Likud primary results was to expand school tours to Hebron. He also visited the isolated settlement Har Bracha near Nablus, where he declared that "peace will not be achieved by uprooting Jews in the Land of Israel." He also urged Israelis to "continue building the country."
Sa'ar, as usual, reflects the spirit of his party, which obliges its members to steer clear of any compromise with the Palestinians and revoke Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan peace speech of June 2009. Likud has no counterforce to confront Feiglin and his supporters, advance a moderate foreign policy and strengthen Israel's democracy.
Netanyahu has been chosen Likud leader for the fourth time, but Feiglin is emerging as the ruling party's true ruler. This bodes ill for Israel.
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