Despite grim poll showing, Herzog insists only he can oust Netanyahu
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Despite grim poll showing, Herzog insists only he can oust Netanyahu

Zionist Union leader urges centrist leaders like Lapid — the big winner in Channel 2 survey — to ‘put their egos aside’ and join him

Zionist Union party chief MK Isaac Herzog leads a faction meeting in the Knesset, January 18, 2016. (Flash90)
Zionist Union party chief MK Isaac Herzog leads a faction meeting in the Knesset, January 18, 2016. (Flash90)

Israel’s opposition leader Isaac Herzog on Saturday insisted his Zionist Union is “the only alternative” to the current government, even though an opinion poll showed his party losing a considerable proportion of its support.

A Channel 2 survey carried out ahead of the March 17 anniversary of last year’s elections showed Zionist Union slipping from its current 24 seats to 18, and being overtaken as the Knesset’s second largest party by the centrist Yesh Atid, which rose from 11 seats in the current House to 19.

Herzog said it was only natural that support for his party would temporarily wane, because of disappointment that it did not form the government despite doing “so well” in last year’s elections. Still, he insisted, Prime Minister Benjamin “Netanyahu is eroding… We are the only alternative.”

Herzog said the Israeli public was gradually internalizing that Zionist Union, whose main component is the Labor Party, has “a realistic plan” for separating from the Palestinians — a “responsible separation,” he said, that would “maintain the IDF in Judea and Samaria” while still enabling Palestinians outside the major settlement blocs to run their own lives.

Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid speaking at the Brookings Institution's Saban Forum in Washington, DC, Saturday, December 5, 2015 (Youtube screen capture)
Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid speaking at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum in Washington, DC, Saturday, December 5, 2015 (Youtube screen capture)

He urged Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, the survey’s big winner, and other party leaders who oppose Netanyahu, to “put their egos aside” and join him to bring down the coalition. “The centrist parties are keeping the right-wing in power,” he said. As things stand, “because of the ego wars, there is no strong alternative to Netanyahu. That’s the truth.”

The survey, which showed Netanyahu’s Likud slipping from 30 seats in the current Knesset to 24, underlined that, broadly speaking, the public is satisfied with the coalition, Likud Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz told Channel 2. “The coalition functions harmoniously,” he said, “and there’s no reason why it will not see out its full term.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits next to Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, January 24, 2016 (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits next to Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, January 24, 2016 (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)

The poll indicated that, were elections held today, the coalition would lose its majority, slipping from 61 seats to 57 in the 120-member house, but Katz asserted that this shift was marginal, and that most of the findings in the survey showed relatively insignificant shifts within existing political blocs, rather than from one bloc to another.

“Lapid is eating into Labor support,” Katz noted, for instance, and “Likud remains the largest party by a consistent margin.”

Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon, the minister of finance, said poll findings were “less important than the fact that we’re doing what we promised in the elections” to help tackle inequality. “We promised a social agenda and we’re honoring that promise.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home party seen at a party meeting in the Knesset, October 12, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home party seen at a party meeting in the Knesset, October 12, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked noted that her Jewish Home party was the only coalition party showing significant growth. She said Jewish Home would like to see more building in the settlements, but knows that “you can’t have it all.”

Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman used the survey as a reason to maintain his ongoing public criticism of Netanyahu. “The wave of terror is a direct result of the [previous Netanyahu] government’s handling of [2014’s Gaza] Operation Protective Edge,” he charged. Liberman said that his party would run independently in a future election (as opposed to the kind of alliance it forged with the Likud in 2013) and was the natural alternative for right-wing voters dissatisfied by the Likud.

The survey by Mano Geva of the Midgam Institute, which interviewed 500 eligible Israeli voters on March 1 and 2 and had a margin of error of ±4.5%, found that the 120 Knesset seats would be distributed as follows if a vote were held today (current seats in parentheses): Likud: 26 seats (compared to 30 in the current Knesset); Yesh Atid: 19 (11); Zionist Union: 18 (24); Joint (Arab) List: 13 (13); Jewish Home: 11 (8); Yisrael Beytenu: 8 (6); Kulanu: 7 (10); United Torah Judaism: 7 (6); Shas: 6 (7); and Meretz: 5 (5).

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