Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu is confident that he will win his Likud party’s primaries on Tuesday, but a vocal bloc of opponents are bent on denying him universal support.
The heart of the group can be found in Migron, the oldest and largest settlement outpost in the West Bank, where residents accuse the rightwing leader of betraying their cause.
They have pledged to punish Netanyahu, accusing him of failing them by agreeing to comply with a High Court ruling ordering Migron be moved because it was built on privately owned Palestinian land.
“We voted for Netanyahu because he supported the settlement cause, and now we are threatened with destruction by the government,” Sahar Damari, a Migron resident and father to four children, says angrily.
Damari lives in the outpost, situated about 15 kilometers (nine miles) north of Jerusalem and established without explicit Israeli governmental permission, along with 50 other families.
Under the terms of a deal supported by Netanyahu, he will be moved to a new Migron, built by the government and located around two kilometers away, also in the West Bank.
The deal is opposed by many residents and Damari says his support for Netanyahu is over, and he now plans to vote for his rival Moshe Feiglin.
“I don’t identify with his positions, but it’s a punitive vote,” he says.
Feiglin, 49, a resident of the Karnei Shomrom settlement, is a political hardliner who opposed the Oslo peace accords and has proposed offering Palestinians and Arab-Israelis money to move to Arab countries.
He has competed in Likud primaries three times before, winning first three percent of the vote, then 12 percent and in 2007 commanding 24 percent.
While Netanyahu does not face a serious threat, he wants to win an overwhelming victory, shoring up his internal position so he can carry out decisions like moving Migron.
“It’s Feiglin or it’s Barak,” Feiglin’s campaign warns, referring to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a target for the settler movement, which accuses him of stymying new construction in the West Bank and supporting Migron’s relocation.
Among some of Netanyahu’s opponents, there is a reluctance to vote for Feiglin, who they accuse of “entryism” -- infiltrating Likud despite ideological differences in a bid to shift it politically or even take it over entirely.
“We want to punish Netanyahu, who no longer listens to us,” says David Zviel, director of the “National Committee” bloc, which has recruited thousands of Likud members in the past 10 years, many of them settlement activists.
But Zviel is calling on the bloc to leave their ballots empty rather than vote for Feiglin, whom he accuses of trying manipulate Likud.
“In the name of Migron and the other communities threatened by Netanyahu’s policies, we call for blank ballots so the prime minister will understand that he cannot continue to take decisions that run contrary to Likud’s constitution.”
In Jerusalem, home to the country’s biggest branch of the Likud party, the premier’s supporters are nervous.
“A blank ballot, like a vote for Feiglin, is a real threat for Netanyahu,” says Michel Benami, head of the Jerusalem section of Likud who fears the premier could react to the campaign by abandoning the rightwing of his party.
“Netanyahu is not just the head of Likud, he’s the prime minister and we will be re-elected in the next elections. If he receives a blow from the activists within his party, it will only push him towards the left and the center.”
“They don’t understand the negative effects of their campaign, weakening Netanyahu weakens Likud, and we will pay for that in the next elections.”