Even after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Tuesday speech at the US Congress, rival Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union party would still be the largest Knesset faction following the March 17 elections, according to a Channel 2 poll published Wednesday, the first since the Israeli leader returned from Washington.
Based on the survey — conducted among 790 respondents with a 3.5% margin of error — the Zionist Union would receive 24 seats, while the Likud would gain 23.
The Joint (Arab) List places third with 13 seats, Yesh Atid and Jewish Home follow with 12 each, and Kulanu with 8. Yisrael Beytenu and Meretz, as well as ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, would all gain 6 seats, while Eli Yishai’s new Yachad party manages to just cross the electoral threshold with 4 Knesset seats.
Conducted by the Midgam polling group, the survey further found that 44% of respondents believe Netanyahu’s Washington address strengthened his standings in Israel, 43% said there was no change in the Israeli leaders popularity and 12% said the prime minister had been weakened as a result of the speech.
Thirty one percent of polled individuals said the main goal of Netanyahu’s address was to thwart a deal between the P5+1 world powers and Iran over the latter’s contested nuclear program, 29% said the prime minister traveled abroad mainly for campaigning purposes and 30% said they believed the Israeli leader intended to achieve both goals.
Despite the slight lead for Zionist Union, 47% of those polled said they wanted to see Netanyahu serve again as prime minister, with Herzog gaining the support of only 28%. Twenty-one percent said they did not know whom they preferred.
If the Likud were tasked with forming the coalition, according to Channel 2, its 23 seats could be joined with Jewish Home, 12, Yisrael Beytenu, 6, Kulanu, 8, Shas, 6, UTJ, 6 and Yachad, 4 for a total of 65 seats, giving Netanyahu a slim majority.
Should the Zionist Union form a government, it could partner with Meretz’s 6 seats, Yesh Atid’s 12, Kulanu’s 8 and — two unlikely partners — Shas, 6 and Yisrael Beytenu, 6, for a total of 62 mandates, an even slimmer majority than the Likud-led constellation.
Shas has said it would refuse to serve in a coalition with Lapid and Liberman has vowed never to sit in a government with Meretz.
Since Netanyahu’s speech was announced in January, the prime minister’s critics have accused him of using the US Capitol stage to boost his polls ahead of Israel’s March 17 election. Supporters say his only intention is to defend his country from a looming threat.
In Israel’s newspapers, responses to the speech fell along ideological lines. At the pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom, Boaz Bismuth, under the headline “The speech of a historic moment,” wrote that Netanyahu succeeded in transcending politics, as “there are moments in which a leader does what he does not for votes, but for the children … There are moments in history that a leader makes happen.”
Elsewhere, pundits were more skeptical of the prime minister’s goals. Nahum Barnea, a staunch Netanyahu critic at Yediot Aharonot, wrote that Netanyahu created “a golden opportunity to leave an impression on voters in Israel, and used it to the fullest.”
Netanyahu has been emphasizing the Iranian nuclear threat throughout the campaign, despite polls showing that voters care more about economics this time around. Oded Eran, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies, said in light of that, Netanyahu’s speech won’t influence the polls, as “there are problems of housing and cost of living and health care, and he didn’t change anything in this respect.”
But at the left-wing Haaretz, Yossi Verter wrote that refocusing the campaign was the speech’s key success. Now, Israelis will all be talking about Netanyahu’s marquee issue: Iran.
“It’s too early to say whether Bibi’s appearance on Capitol Hill two weeks before the election will stanch his Likud party’s steady decline in the polls and leave him in office for another term,” Verter wrote. “What’s certain is that this week will be dominated by the issue Netanyahu and his campaign staff want to highlight: security, security, security.”
JTA and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.