Amid unity talks, poll predicts 40 seats for Likud and a majority rightist bloc

Channel 12 survey sees the prime minister leading a group of 64 right-wing MKs; Labor party, which led Israel for its first 30 years, predicted to disappear

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference about the coronavirus COVID-19, at the Prime Ministers Office in Jerusalem on March 25, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference about the coronavirus COVID-19, at the Prime Ministers Office in Jerusalem on March 25, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A television opinion poll aired Monday gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party 40 Knesset seats if elections were held today and placed him at the head of a right-wing bloc that has a clear majority in parliament.

The poll was published as Likud and Blue and White negotiated forming an emergency unity government to confront the coronavirus outbreak and end a political deadlock that has seen three inconclusive elections within a year — including a vote last month — which has left the country under a transitional government of limited powers since December 2018.

According to the Channel 12 survey, Blue and White, led by Netanyahu’s chief rival MK Benny Gantz, would win 19 seats, also four more than it currently holds, to become the second largest party after Likud. But Blue and White won 33 seats in the elections just five weeks ago, since when its Yesh Atid and Telem factions have split off in protest at Gantz’s decision to seek a unity coalition with Netanyahu in breach of the party’s year-long pledge not to partner with the prime minister so long as he faces corruption charges.

The Monday poll placed Netanyahu at the head of a bloc of allied right-wing and religious parties that garnered 64 seats, giving him a majority in the 120-seat Knesset. His bloc currently has only 59 seats.

Blue and White party leader MK Benny Gantz holds a press conference at Kfar Maccabia on March 7 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

According to the poll, the third largest party would be the predominantly Arab-member Joint List with 15 seats, the same as it now has.

Next largest, with 10 seats, was the Yesh Atid-Telem alliance of the two parties that split from Gantz’s party when he began seeking unity with Likud.

They were followed by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party (9), the nationalist Yamina party (8), ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and secular hawkish Yisrael Beytenu with seven seats each, and finally the dovish left-wing Meretz party with five seats, two more than it has in the current Knesset.

Three parties currently in the Knesset were seen as not passing the Knesset threshold of 3.25% of the vote — Gesher which has just one seat, Derech Eretz, a breakaway from Blue and White that has two seats, and Labor, the veteran leftist party that used to be one of the country’s two major parties.

Ahead of the last election, Labor joined in an alliance with Meretz and Gesher, which then split after the vote. Labor came away with three seats, its poorest result in any election.

Labor has indicated it would join a Netanyahu-led government despite repeated campaign promises to the contrary. Its leader Amir Peretz has signaled he would merge his party with Gantz’s Blue and White.

Following the March 2 vote, President Reuven Rivlin tasked Gantz with forming a government after the Blue and White leader gained the recommendations of 61 lawmakers in the 120-seat Knesset.

That mandate expired at midnight on Monday. But Rivlin, who had refused to grant Gantz extra time to form a government, agreed to a joint request from Gantz and Netanyahu and granted them an extra 48 hours to finalize a deal. If they fail, he has said he will ask Knesset members to recommend one of their peers to receive the mandate to form a government. The first MK to receive more than 61 recommendations would then be tasked by Rivlin. If the Knesset cannot agree on a candidate within 21 days, Israel would have to hold fourth elections.

Netanyahu and Gantz were meeting into the night Monday to hammer out a final agreement. The proposals would see the two share the premiership, with Netanyahu leading the country for the first 18 months.

Israeli police at a temporary checkpoint to enforce travel restrictions due to the coronavirus in Jerusalem, on April 11, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Channel 12 survey also asked participants how satisfied they were with the way the caretaker government has handled the coronavirus outbreak in the country that by Monday had killed at least 116 people, with over 10,000 more infected.

It found that 64 percent are satisfied with how the government has dealt with the crisis. Among right-wing supporters the figure jumped to 77% and it dropped to 45% among center-left supporters. Some 33% said they are not satisfied with the government’s approach.

In an effort to curb the coronavirus outbreak, Israel has ordered a partial lockdown and social distancing that requires most of the population to stay at home, only venturing out for essential needs or to work in critical jobs. The measures have wreaked havoc with the economy and unemployment has soared from around 4% to 25% since the beginning of March. Over 1,000,000 Israelis are now unemployed.

The internet and telephone survey was carried out for Channel 12 by Mano Geva and sampled 504 people with a margin of error of 4.4%.

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