The first opinion polls taken since the Knesset dispersed Wednesday night and set new elections for September 17 showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be unable to form a coalition without Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party — precisely as was the case over the past seven weeks, when Netanyahu failed to muster a majority because Liberman wouldn’t come on board.
Netanyahu and Liberman, allies and rivals over three decades in Israeli politics, spent much of Thursday bitterly accusing each other of placing personal interests above those of the state and betraying their voters’ wishes. Netanyahu on Thursday evening branded Liberman “a serial saboteur of right-wing governments”; Liberman earlier Thursday said Netanyahu was guilty of relentless “surrender” to Israel’s ultra-Orthodox politicians. And both made clear they would never again be partners in government.
But a Channel 13 poll published on Thursday evening showed that Israel’s political deadlock would be maintained if elections were held today. The poll, which surveyed 720 Israelis and had a 3.8% margin of error predicted 57 seats in the 120-member Knesset for the Likud-led right-wing bloc, and 54 seats for the centrist-left-Arab bloc, led by the Blue and White party of ex-IDF chief Benny Gantz. Holding the balance of power: Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, with 9 seats. Liberman, however, refused to partner with Netanyahu during the past seven weeks of coalition negotiations that culminated in Netanyahu’s admission of defeat on Wednesday night, and Liberman stated on Thursday that he would not back Gantz as prime minister after the next elections, although he did not explicitly rule out ever joining a Gantz-led coalition.
In full, the survey gave Likud, now merged with Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party, 36 seats, followed by Blue and White with 33 seats. (In the April 9 elections, Likud and Blue and White received 35 seats each, and Kulanu won 4.) Yisrael Beytenu came next in Thursday’s poll with 9 seats (up from 5 in April), followed by Shas and United Torah Judaism with 7 apiece (the two ultra-Orthodox parties each won 8 in April); the Union of Right-Wing Parties 7 (up from 5 in April), Hadash-Ta’al 7 (up from 6); Meretz 6 (up from 4); Labor 4 (down from 6) and Ra’am-Balad 4 (unchanged).
Another poll, by the Kan state broadcaster, had similar findings, giving the right-wing bloc 58 seats, the centrist-left-Arab bloc 54, and Liberman in the middle with 8.
The Kan poll allocated Knesset seats as follows: Likud 35, Blue and White 34, Yisrael Beytenu 8, United Torah Judaism 8, Shas 7, Hadash-Ta’al 6, Labor and Meretz 5 each, and Union of Right-Wing Parties, the New Right and Ra’am-Balad 4 each.
Israel’s political map is certain to change somewhat in the weeks ahead of the September 17 elections, with the popular outgoing Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked possibly joining Netanyahu’s Likud, Labor choosing a new leader and possibly merging with Meretz, the Arab parties running on a joint list, and numerous other shifts.