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Israel's Netanyahu Vows to Win Premiership After Party Election Victory

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has won re-election as leader of the right-wing Likud party. But as Robert Berger reports from VOA's bureau, some analysts describe it as a limited victory because of a respectable showing by a far-right wing opponent.

Hawkish opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu won the chairmanship of his Likud party by a landslide, capturing 73 percent of the vote. He said the next stop is the prime minister's office.

He told Israel Radio that his election gives the entire nation hope for a future that is better and more secure.

Mr. Netanyahu is known as favoring tough security policies, and he has soared in the polls since last year's Lebanon War, which an official inquiry described as a failure. As a result, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's popularity has plunged. National elections are not due until 2010, but if Mr. Olmert's fragile government collapses, early elections could take place next year.

But Israeli analyst Gil Hoffman says do not count Mr. Olmert out just yet.

"Ehud Olmert is the ultimate survivor. He is just like the state of Israel, more resilient than people give him credit for," said Hoffman.

In fact, Hoffman notes that Netanyahu's victory was overshadowed by a respectable showing by his challenger Moshe Feiglin, who won 23 percent of the vote. Feiglin is a far-right wing settler who opposes peace talks with the Palestinians and seeks to expand Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank, or what he calls the biblical Land of Israel.

Hoffman says Feiglin has contributed to an image of the Likud as a party of extremists.

"And that's not something Netanyahu wants if he wants to appeal to the center of the political map," he said.

Netanyahu needs the votes of Israelis in the center if he wants to win re-election, so he has sought to project a more moderate image. Though he opposes a Palestinian state in most of the West Bank, he says he would agree to peace talks and territorial concessions, if the Palestinians keep their commitments to fight terrorism.