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Premier stuck inside a growing political chasm

    Upping the stakes: Lieberman
    Upping the stakes: Lieberman

    Benjamin Netanyahu's attempt this week to reduce the impact of the right-wing legislative campaign is the result of several lingering pressures.

    The Likud old-guard, clinging to democratic and judicial values that the younger right-wingers seem to have forfeited, have leaned on the Prime Minister to tone down the legislation.

    In addition, negative media coverage and polls indicate that a significant proportion of the Likud's own voters are not enamoured with the new laws.

    "As long as I'm Prime Minister," he said this week, "Israel will continue being a model democracy and no-one will tell anyone what to think, what to write, what to investigate and what to broadcast. That is the Likud's way."

    The reality, however, remains that most of the Likud's MKs are in favour of the new laws and, even if Mr Netanyahu could rein them in, he also has to consider the right-wing voters being wooed by Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu.

    Mr Lieberman upped the stakes this week when he announced that if the larger settler outposts in the West Bank are dismantled or the government agrees to "unfreeze" money transfers to the Palestinian Authority, his party would see
    this as "a reason to break up the
    coalition".

    The sub-title on the Likud logo is "a national-liberal movement", a throwback to the time, over three decades ago, when Menahem Begin's right-wing Herut merged with the middle-of-the-road Liberal Party.

    The few remaining stalwarts who actually knew Begin - ministers Dan Meridor, Michael Eitan and, of course, Benny Begin, along with Knesset Speaker Rubi Rivlin - are warning that Likud has forsaken its liberal roots.

    The Prime Minister knows they are right, but he has yet find a way to bridge the disparate wings of his party or a formula which will allow him to appeal to voters of both liberal and national persuasions.

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