Final surveys show ongoing deadlock, with Likud rise offset by strong Joint List

Channel 12 poll shows Netanyahu gaining momentum, but right-Orthodox bloc still 3 short of majority; both TV polls put mainly Arab Joint List at new high with record 14-15 seats

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. (Oded Balilty and Jack Guez/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. (Oded Balilty and Jack Guez/AFP)

Two final surveys ahead of Monday’s Israeli elections predicted ongoing deadlock, with neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor his challenger Benny Gantz able to muster a Knesset majority.

A Channel 12 survey showed the Netanyahu-led right-Orthodox bloc winning 58 seats, just three short of a Knesset majority, to 56 for Gantz’s center-left-Arab bloc.

A Channel 13 survey, by contrast, put the Netanyahu-led bloc on 56, with the Gantz-led bloc on 57.

If the results on March 2 are along these lines, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party would again be the kingmaker, having prevented the formation of a majority government after elections last April and September. And if his stance again meant neither bloc could form a coalition, Israel could be headed to a fourth election in the fall.

Strikingly, in both surveys, the vote for the mostly Arab Joint List was up, with that party winning 14 seats in the Channel 12 poll and 15 seats in the Channel 13 poll. Channel 13 said its survey indicated a likely high 65% turnout among Israeli Arab voters. Their turnout was at some 50% last April and 60% in September.

The surveys reflected a gradual improvement in the performance of Netanyahu’s Likud in recent days, but still left the prime minister short of a Knesset majority. In part, Likud’s gains were offset in the latest polls by the rise of the Joint List.

Leader of the Joint list Ayman Odeh (R) and party member Ahmad Tibi arrive for a meeting with party members at the Knesset on September 22, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu has in previous elections used claims that Arab voters were turning out in high numbers to try to get his supporters to the polls. A trend of falling Arab turnout was reversed in September, however, and the Joint List, led by MK Ayman Odeh, is predicting a record high turnout on Monday, with Arab voters galvanized by a clause in the recently unveiled Trump peace plan that suggests Israel’s borders could be redrawn to make some Arabs towns and villages in northern Israel part of a future Palestinian state in the West Bank. Such a move, which Netanyahu has said he opposes, is bitterly opposed by Israel’s Arab minority, who constitute a little less than a quarter of the population.

The Channel 12 poll was as follows: Likud 35 seats, Blue and White 33, Joint List 14, Labor-Gesher-Meretz 9, Shas 8, United Torah Judaism 8, Yamina 7, and Yisrael Beytenu 6.

The Channel 13 poll was slightly different: Likud 33 seats, Blue and White 33, Joint List 15, Labor-Gesher-Meretz 9, Shas 8, Yamina 8, United Torah Judaism 7, and Yisrael Beytenu 7.

In September’s elections, Blue and White won 33 seats to Likud’s 32. The Joint List won 13 seats, up from 10 in April’s election.

Asked who is best to serve as prime minister, 44 percent backed Netanyahu in the Channel 12 survey to just 32% for Gantz. In the Channel 13 survey, 45% backed Netanyahu and 35% supported Gantz.

Seven percent of those surveyed by Channel 12 said they might not vote because of fears of the coronavirus.

Netanyahu is fighting these elections in the shadow of an indictment for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. His trial is set to open on March 17. Gantz, a former IDF chief, for his part, is battling against a campaign by Netanyahu and Likud that seeks to depict him as weak and hesitant. This week, an adviser to Gantz was recorded calling him a potential danger to Israel who lacked the courage to attack Iran. Gantz fired the adviser, Israel Bacher, on Friday, though he said Bacher had been set up. Bacher himself said Friday Gantz is “a worthy leader” for Israel.

Three opinion polls published earlier Thursday and Friday had shown Netanyahu and his Likud party maintaining a slight lead over rivals in Blue and White, but also with neither party leading a bloc with a majority in the Knesset.

A survey by the Kan public broadcaster gave Likud 35 seats to Blue and White’s 34. The Israel Hayom newspaper in its own survey gave both Likud and Blue and White 33 seats each, while a third poll from the Maariv newspaper gave each of the two parties 34 seats.

Netanyahu’s bloc of right-wing and religious parties would win 58 seats compared to 56 held by Blue and White leader Gantz at the head of a center-left-Arab bloc, according to the Kan results. Israel Hayom gave Netanyahu’s bloc 57 seats to Gantz’s 56, as did Maariv.

Sheets of newly printed ballots seen at Palphot printing-house in Karnei Shomron, in preparation for Israel’s upcoming general elections, February 12, 2020. (Flash90)

All Thursday and Friday’s poll results showed Israel no closer to ending the political deadlock that has forced three elections in 11 months, as voters who left Blue and White or rallied to Likud seemed to be largely doing so from other parties within their respective political blocs.

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman seen at a conference at the Israeli Institute for Democracy, in Jerusalem, on February 24, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to these polls, too, Liberman still holds the balance of power, with Kan giving him six seats and the other two polls both finding the hawkish secularist party would win seven seats, enough to carry either bloc to a majority.

Liberman has vowed to not sit in a coalition with the Joint List, which has similarly said it will not partner with him. Blue and White has repeatedly said it will not form a government that relies on the Joint List. Without the Joint List, Gantz’s bloc is at best around 50 seats, even with Liberman’s support. Liberman has also vowed not to partner with Netanyahu.

None of the five surveys Thursday and Friday gave the far-right Otzma Yehudit party more than 2%, far short of the 3.25% needed for entry into the Knesset.

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