A poll published Wednesday showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failing to garner any significant boost in popularity from the previous day’s signing of accords with two Arab states, with rivals from the right and center threatening to mount a significant challenge as the government faces a backlash over the return to a national lockdown.
The survey, published by Channel 13 news, showed Netanyahu’s Likud party leading with 30 seats, six fewer than it currently holds, and on par with other surveys in the last couple of months.
On Tuesday Netanyahu signed normalization accords with the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in front of hundreds on the White House South Lawn, only the third and fourth such agreements with Arab nations in Israel’s 72-year history.
The normalization of relations with the UAE and Bahrain follows Israel’s treaties with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994 and is seen as a major achievement among the Israeli public.
The poll also showed the far-right Yamina party up to 22 seats, continuing a trend seen in recent months as faction head Naftali Bennett has pounded the prime minister for the government’s mishandling of the coronavirus crisis, while presenting himself as a viable right-wing alternative. The party currently holds only five seats in the Knesset.
Centrist Yesh Atid, led by opposition chair Yair Lapid, also appeared to be holding gains seen in recent polls, with 18 Knesset seats, up one seat from the 17 it currently holds.
No elections are set to take place, but speculation is rampant that an early vote will be called sometime in the next several months, as bad blood between Netanyahu and his Blue and White partner Defense Minister Benny Gantz continues to brew, in the shadow of a budget deadline at the end of the year that could automatically fell the government.
According to the poll, Gantz’s Blue and White party is projected to win eight seats, a six-seat drop from the 14 it currently holds.
When asked about the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, 58 percent of respondents said they were not happy with Netanyahu’s performance. Sixty-eight percent said they plan on adhering to the new coronavirus restrictions in full. Nearly half of those asked believe that a third lockdown is inevitable.
Some 31% said Netanyahu is the most suited to be prime minister, followed by Bennett (18%) and Lapid (13%), with Gantz, who is slated to take over as prime minister in November 2021 if Netanyahu honors their rotation agreement, trailing at 10%.
Snubbed and cold-shouldered for years by Netanyahu, Bennett has intensified his rhetoric against the government in recent weeks and has highlighted perceived government mismanagement of the country’s coronavirus response. He is a thorn in Netanyahu’s right flank, and seen as a possible challenger to the prime minister in future elections, along with Lapid.
The other parties projected to win seats were the Arab-majority Joint List (12), the ultra-Orthodox Shas (7), United Torah Judaism (7), the secular, right-wing Yisrael Beytenu (8) and left-wing Meretz (8).
Labor, Gesher, and the Jewish Home party were not projected to pass the electoral threshold for entering Knesset.
Effective Friday from 2 p.m., Israel is set to enter its second lockdown due to a spike in confirmed coronavirus cases in past weeks. The lockdown will last at least three weeks and will see the large swaths of the country confined to 500 meters (1,640 feet) from their homes, only allowed out for essential errands.
The poll was conducted online among 703 participants, 602 of whom were Jewish, with a margin of error of 3.9 percent