Jerusalem: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to take on hardliners in his own party on Thursday in a procedural vote his opponents hope will limit his ability to make concessions in new peace talks.
Over 2,500 members of the right-wing Likud party`s central committee were to vote on a motion backed by Netanyahu to amend the party constitution so that a convention that renews its membership could be delayed by 20 months.
The central committee has a key role in approving the party platform and a more hardline membership could tie Netanyahu`s hands in any future US-brokered negotiations with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu says he wants the delay because he is too busy right now dealing with attempts to revive the talks with the Palestinians, lobbying for tougher international sanctions against Iran and keeping a close eye on the build-up of rockets and missiles by Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
"The last thing we need to do now is get into internal politicking within the Likud," he told a party rally on Tuesday. "We must not take our minds off the great challenges standing before the state of Israel."
Speaking to Likud members of Parliament at a separate meeting, he listed those challenges as including "defence of Jerusalem and a responsible peace process which takes care of our interests."
Opposing him is a group led by hardline settler Moshe Feiglin, convicted of sedition by a court in 1997 after organising a campaign of civil disobedience against the 1993 Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestinians.
Feiglin`s supporters believe if the convention is held earlier they can rally support against Netanyahu to limit his ability to make concessions over Jerusalem and other thorny issues in the peace process.
Feiglin says that a Likud convention now could put Netanyahu in the position of either sparking revolt among the party faithful or angering Washington.
"The issue is Jerusalem," Feiglin said in a television interview this week. "The moment there is a vote in the Likud central committee... all the Knesset (Parliament) members and all the ministers will be pledging to preserve Jerusalem, to resist withdrawal," he added.
"Then Netanyahu will be unable to continue with his plan, which he has apparently already agreed with the Americans."
On Thursday, commentators said there was no certainty Netanyahu would win the two-thirds majority necessary to carry the day, and in recent days he has had to walk a difficult tightrope.
The rightwing Likud officially opposes the creation of a Palestinian state or any erosion of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.
But Israel`s closest ally, the United States, is pushing for a peace deal with the Palestinians in which a Palestinian state is a given and locating its capital in east Jerusalem is a key demand.