After first speech, poll lifts Gantz firmly into second place behind Likud

Ex-IDF chief gets boost in bid to unseat Netanyahu after launching campaign, teaming up with Ya’alon; survey says he could win election with further tie-ups

Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz delivers his first electoral speech in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on January 29, 2019. (Thomas Coex/AFP)
Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz delivers his first electoral speech in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on January 29, 2019. (Thomas Coex/AFP)

An electoral alliance headed by former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz would be the second largest faction in the Knesset following national elections in April, according to a new poll released Wednesday, shortly after the retired general’s first political speech.

Gantz kicked off his bid to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday with the official launch of his Israel Resilience party’s campaign and announcement he will run on a joint electoral list with fellow former military chief Moshe Ya’alon.

On the heels of his maiden speech, a survey published by Walla news said the tie-up between Gantz and Ya’alon would receive 19 seats in the April election, behind Netanyahu’s Likud with 29 seats, one less than its current total.

Recent polls had put Israel Resilience between 12-15 seats and jockeying with Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid to be the second largest party after Likud. The same surveys indicated Ya’alon’s Telem Party would fail to clear the electoral threshold if it ran alone.

Former Israeli chiefs of staff Benny Gantz (C-R) and Moshe Ya’alon (C-L) at rally in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on January 29, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

In the Walla poll, Yesh Atid received 12 seats, placing it squarely in third place and well behind Gantz and Ya’alon. It was followed by Labor, United Torah Judaism, the New Right and Joint (Arab) List, which would each receive seven seats.

The survey said MK Ahmad Tibi’s Ta’al party would get five seats after breaking with the Joint List earlier this month, as would Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu, former defense minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu and the left-wing Meretz party.

The Jewish Home, which has been hovering around the electoral threshold since ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked jumped ship to set up the New Right, would get four seats, as would independent MK Orly Levy-Abekasis’s new Gesher party and the ultra-Orthodox Shas.

The Walla survey also polled how Gantz and Ya’alon’s alliance would fair in elections if it joined forces with other party and leaders.

If the two were to team up with Orly Levy-Abekasis, the combined faction would get 24 seats opposed to Likud’s 29, though if they formed a joint list with Yesh Atid and fellow former IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi they would receive 33 seats, topping the ruling party’s 27.

IDF generals Benny Gantz and Gabbi Ashkenazi on July 1 2009. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Ashkenazi, who Gantz’s predecessor as head of the Israel Defense Forces, has not publicly indicated whether he intends to enter politics. A television report over the weekend said Ashkenazi is being courted by both Gantz and Lapid but has told them he will only jump into the fray if they unite to form a large centrist bloc.

Speaking with Army Radio earlier Wednesday, Levy-Abekasis left open the possibility for joining up with Gantz but suggested they hold different political views.

“I never say no, but there is a lack of shared values,” she said.

Though Lapid has not explicitly ruled out allying with Gantz, a Yesh Atid party source told The Times of Israel on Tuesday that, with due respect to Gantz the only question is who can beat Netanyahu and there are two important factors – who can go head to head with Netanyahu in the political arena and which party can go head to head with the Likud in the field. The only answer is Lapid and Yesh Atid.”

The Walla poll was conducted by Panel Politics and made up of 1,009 respondents, with a margin or error of 3.9 percent.

Israel’s main broadcasters Hadashot and Channel 13 said they would release their own polls Wednesday evening following Gantz’s speech.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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