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Israel's Netanyahu reelected as party leader

January 1, 2015

The Israeli prime minister has triumphed in his party primary by a landslide. Netanyahu is seeking a third straight term in office in legislative elections in March.

netanjahu ministerpräsident israel
Image: ap

Benjamin Netanyahu won another term as leader of the ruling right-wing Likud party on Thursday, easily defeating his single hard-right challenger, Danny Danon. Netanyahu's re-election comes ahead of snap polls set for March.

Elections for the Knesset, Israel's parliament, were moved up from 2017 after Likud's shaky coalition with both the secular Yesh Atid party and the Zionist party Jewish Home fell apart.

"With nearly 60 percent of the ballots counted, Benjamin Netanyahu took 80 percent of the vote and Danny Danon 20 percent," Likud spokeswoman Noga Katz told news agency AFP, adding that the final results would be known later Thursday.

Likud's nearly 100,000 members also voted to determine front-runners on the party list for the upcoming legislative election. In the previous primary, members voted out several leading moderates, signaling an increasingly right-leaning trend.

Casting his ballot at a polling station in Jerusalem on Wednesday, Netanyahu said the party must unify against the leftist threat.

"It is important at the end of the day that there be one strong Likud against the left in order to lead the state of Israel safely," he said.

Center-left opponents out to topple Netanyahu

Netanyahu's biggest challenge is indeed likely to come from the center-left in March. An alliance of the opposition Labor party and moderate Hatnuah is ready to challenge Likud's dominance. Observers have commented that Likud has an image problem, and is seen by many as old-fashioned and inflexible.

Commentator Yoaz Hendel said ahead of the primary that Likud was a party "fighting for survival" with little to offer in terms of dynamic leaders likely to garner votes.

"Today's Likud has no new, youthful, charismatic energy, and there is also no range of opinions," he wrote in Yediot Aharonot, a daily newspaper with an anti-Netanyahu stance.

The left has criticized the government's immigration policy, which included a crackdown on African asylum seekers, who Netanyahu referred to as "infiltrators."

A center-left coalition is also more likely to resume peace talks with Palestine, analysts said.

es/nm (AP, AFP)