On the eve of a likely Knesset vote for yet another back-to-back election, a new poll by Channel 13 television news showed Blue and White increasing its lead on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.
The poll shows the centrist Blue and White expanding its current one-seat advantage over Likud to a four-seat lead, winning 37 seats to Likud’s 33 in the 120-member Knesset.
Meanwhile, the rightist-Haredi bloc of parties backing Netanyahu falls by three seats, from the current 55 total to 52, according to the survey.
The right-wing retreat appears to be mostly due to the collapse under the 3.25 percent electoral threshold of the far-right alliance of Jewish Home and National Union.
There is still worse news for Likud in the latest poll.
If the party drops the scandal-laden Netanyahu in favor of his main challenger, MK Gideon Sa’ar, the party drops to just 29 seats, fully six seats behind Blue and White at 35 — but the broader right-wing bloc on which Likud has relied grows to 55.
The bloc’s growth in this scenario comes mainly because votes shed from Likud help push the Jewish Home-National Union list over the threshold and up to five seats. The Sephardi Haredi party Shas and the New Right also see a slight increase. The right-wing advantage could be boosted further if Labor-Gesher, which in this scenario hovers just above the threshold at 4 seats, delivers a weaker-than-expected showing at the ballot box.
Sa’ar announced last month he would challenge Netanyahu for party leader after the longtime premier twice failed to form a government in the April and September races. Sa’ar did not mention Netanyahu’s pending indictments in three corruption cases as a reason for his challenge.
Netanyahu agreed earlier this week not to stand in the way of a Likud leadership primary, which is expected to be held in late December. The race marks the first real challenge to Netanyahu’s chairmanship of the party since he took the reins from Ariel Sharon in 2005. In the last scheduled primary in 2016 he stood unopposed.
If the latest survey is any indication — other recent polls have showed similar results — Sa’ar has a difficult primary campaign ahead of him in which he may try to convince Likud’s rank and file that a smaller Likud within a larger right-wing bloc will potentially help bring the party closer to victory and end an almost year-long political deadlock.
The Channel 13 poll, led by Prof. Camil Fuchs and carried out among a representative sample of 803 Israelis, including 200 Arabic speakers, showed the following results if Likud is led by Netanyahu: Blue and White 37, Likud 33, Arab Joint List 13, Yisrael Beytenu 8, United Torah Judaism 7, Shas 6, New Right 6, Labor-Gesher 5, Democratic Camp 5, Jewish Home-National Union 0.
If Likud is led by Sa’ar, the results are: Blue and White 35, Likud 29, Arab Joint List 13, Yisrael Beytenu 8, United Torah Judaism 7, Shas 7, New Right 7, Jewish Home-National Union 5, Democratic Camp 5, Labor-Gesher 4.
The margin of error was 3.6%.
Respondents were also asked who they blamed for the third consecutive election in 11 months, should it happen. The main culprit, with 41%, is Netanyahu. Next in line with 26% is Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman, whose demands on religious issues first splintered Netanyahu’s rightist alliance after the April election. The option if “everyone is equally responsible” took third place with 23%. Blue and White’s Benny Gantz received almost no blame for the turmoil — just 5% named him as the culprit.
After both Gantz and Netanyahu failed to form a coalition in the wake of the September race, the Knesset entered a period of 21 days in which any lawmaker who can obtain 61 MKs’ signatures can form a government. That period ends on Wednesday at midnight, at which point the 22nd Knesset is required to dissolve itself and call new elections.
A draft bill dissolving the Knesset and setting elections for March 2, 2020 was filed Tuesday by lawmakers from both Likud and Blue and White. It is expected to pass its final readings in the Knesset before the midnight deadline.