First poll after elections called shows Likud breezing past Gantz to easy win
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First poll after elections called shows Likud breezing past Gantz to easy win

Netanyahu’s party maintains massive lead in new survey, way ahead of hypothetical new party led by former IDF chief

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the press at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 19, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the press at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 19, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party would maintain a strong lead over all other political rivals if elections were held today, including over a hypothetical party led by former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, according to a first public opinion poll taken after Monday’s announcement that a national vote will take place in April.

The poll, conducted by the Panels Politics polling agency for the Maariv daily newspaper, showed Likud taking 30 Knesset seats, the same as it holds today, whether Gantz enters the race or not.

If Gantz, who helmed the Israel Defense Forces from 2011 to 2015 and is seen as a centrist, were to run, the survey shows that he could garner 13 seats in his own party, making it the second-largest in the Knesset, but still trailing Likud by a huge margin.

In that scenario, Yesh Atid would be in third place with 12 (up one from its current 11), followed by the Joint (Arab) List and the Jewish Home with 11 apiece (down from 13 and up from eight, respectively).

With Gantz in the race, the poll found, the Zionist Union, today the Knesset’s second largest party with 24 seats, would drop to nine.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with outgoing IDF Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, at the military base, HaKirya, in Tel Aviv, February 12, 2015. (photo credit: Haim Zach / GPO)

Of the remaining parties, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party would drop four of its 10 seats — possibly a reflection of a recent price hike on basic items and electricity.

The left-wing Meretz party would score six seats, as would a party led by independent MK Orly Levy-Abekasis, up from five seats and one, respectively.

Avigdor Liberman, who resigned as defense minister last month and pulled his Yisrael Beytenu’s six MKs from the coalition in protest of the government’s handling of border violence with the Gaza Strip, would lose one seat, the poll found. Liberman is reportedly eager to regain the defense portfolio in a future government.

Among the ultra-Orthodox parties, the United Torah Judaism party would win seven seats, gaining one, while the Shas party, led by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, would drop from seven to four seats — dangerously close to the minimum threshold for entering the Knesset.

Overall, the results show Netanyahu would be able to form a narrow right-wing government together with his current coalition partners, including the ultra-Orthodox parties. Partnering with Gantz and Lapid and other right-wing parties would boost Netanyahu to a wide majority without the need for ultra-Orthodox parties, which have, for decades, been a deciding factor in coalitions.

Head of the Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid gives a statement to the media in the Knesset on December 24, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A poll conducted earlier this month showed that a political union between Gantz and Yesh Atid could pose a serious challenge to Likud and take 26 seats.

Should Gantz not enter politics, Zionist Union would still shrink to 11 seats, and Likud would remain in power with 31 seats, according to an October survey, which dovetailed closely with other polls published at the time.

Speculation over Gantz’s political future has swirled this year with the expiration of his legally required “cooling off” period, under which former top security officials must wait three years after retiring before entering politics. Gantz, 59, left the military in 2015 after a four-year stint as its chief that saw him command the 2014 Gaza war.

Though Gantz has yet to formally announce his entry into politics, he has reportedly gathered enough signatures to set up his own party and is said to prefer to run alone rather than join an existing center-left or centrist faction.

Former prime minister Ehud Barak said on Monday that he may resurrect his political career if a center-left political bloc were formed to challenge Netnayahu in April’s elections.

“If a center-left bloc coalesces that is led by a man who can both win elections and govern the country, he will win the election,” Barak told Hadashot TV news, hours after the national vote was moved up seven months by coalition leaders.

Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak attends a conference marking the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, at the Ben Zvi Institute in Jerusalem on June 5, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“It’s important to me that this bloc be formed — certainly I could lead it, I’ve led [a party] to victory in elections over Netanyahu — but I cannot make myself a condition to the formation of the bloc,” continued Barak, who also previously served as commander of the IDF.

“There is certainly a chance I will join — but I alone am not enough,” added the 76-year-old Barak.

Barak, a former Labor party leader who served as Netanyahu’s defense minister between 2009 and 2013, has over the past several years become an outspoken critic of the prime minister, with many believing he may be setting the stage for a return to politics.

Sunday’s Maariv poll sampled 502 Jewish and Arab Israelis and had a 4.3 percent margin of error.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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