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Analysts: Israeli PM's Party Win May Affect Peace Process

Israel's leader has won a political victory that could give a boost to Middle East peace efforts.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has won a victory over hardliners in his right-wing Likud party who sought to tie his hands in the Middle East peace process. He won a vote to delay party elections for 20 months, meaning that he can pursue U.S.-sponsored peace talks with the Palestinians. The Likud Central Committee gave Mr. Netanyahu 76 percent of the vote.

It was a stinging defeat for Moshe Feiglin, who leads the ultra-nationalist wing of the Likud. Feiglin says he is faithful to the original Likud ideology, which opposes any territorial concessions to the Palestinians. He accuses Mr. Netanyahu of caving in to pressure from the United States, by imposing a de-facto freeze on Israeli construction in disputed East Jerusalem.

Feiglin said Mr. Netanyahu is "running to U.S. President Barack Obama to give him Jerusalem."

Mr. Obama has demanded a freeze on the construction of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem to clear the way for restarting peace talks with the Palestinians. Palestinians claim the city's eastern sector as the capital of a future state.

The settlement issue has caused a crisis in U.S.-Israel relations, and to mend fences, Mr. Netanyahu needs to advance the peace process.

Jerusalem Post editor, David Horowitz, says the prime minister's victory within his political party was critical. "If his party is taken over, as he sees it, by people who are more extreme than he is and who would seek to limit his freedom of maneuver, it constrains his capacity to run the country, including, most relevantly and currently, the imminent start of indirect proximity talks with the Palestinians. If his party's constraining him, he can't act," he said.

Diplomacy is moving into high gear amid renewed optimism that peace talks will resume soon. On Saturday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hopes to win approval from the Arab League to begin indirect negotiations. On Monday, Prime Minister Netanyahu will meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo.