Channels 12 and 13 predict extremist Ben Gvir will be an MK

First polls since lists closed show far-right at 4-5 seats, Yamina in key role

Initial surveys after closing of official slates for March elections see both Netanyahu and his opponents short of majority; several parties in danger of falling below threshold

Otzma Yehudit party member Itamar Ben Gvir (R) speaks with then-National Union faction leader Betzalel Smotrich during a campaign event in Bat Yam, April 6, 2019. (Flash90)
Otzma Yehudit party member Itamar Ben Gvir (R) speaks with then-National Union faction leader Betzalel Smotrich during a campaign event in Bat Yam, April 6, 2019. (Flash90)

Two polls released Friday, the first since official party slates were filed, indicated that the Religious Zionism alliance, which includes two extremist parties, will make it into the Knesset, that both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his opponents will have trouble mustering a coalition majority, and that Naftali Bennett’s Yamina could play the kingmaker role.

A Channel 12 survey found that out of the 39 parties running, 12 will win seats in the 24th Knesset, including the Religious Zionism alliance, which includes the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit and homophobic Noam factions. The survey found the far-right merger would win four seats.

The poll also indicated that both the dovish Meretz party and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party are hovering just above the 3.25% electoral threshold, with four seats each. Mansour Abbas’s Ra’am, which has split from the Arab-majority Joint List, failed to cross the threshold in the survey.

The poll gave Netanyahu’s Likud party 29 seats, while his main challengers Yesh Atid got 17. The New Hope party founded in December by former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar received 14 seats and the right-wing Yamina had 11.

Party leaders ahead of the 2021 elections (from left): Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennett, Benjamin Netanyahu, Gideon Sa’ar, Benny Gantz (Courtesy)

The Arab-dominated Joint List, hit by Ra’am’s split, dropped to 9 seats, the two ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism received 8 and 7 seats, respectively, while Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu got 7.

The Labor party under new leader Merav Michaeli got 6 seats, with Nitzan Horowitz’s Meretz and Gantz’s Blue and White rounding it out with 4 each.

A Channel 13 poll had 13 parties entering the Knesset, with Ra’am making it in.

It gave Likud 30, Yesh Atid 17, New Hope 13, Yamina 11, Labor 7, Joint List 7, Shas 7, UTJ 6, the Religious Zionists 5, Yisrael Beytenu 5, Blue and White 4, Meretz 4 and Ra’am 4.

Both polls showed Yaron Zelekha’s Economy Party failing to clear the threshold.

Were Netanyahu and Likud to seek a coalition with the two ultra-Orthodox parties, Yamina, and Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism alliance, he would have 59 seats, only two short of a majority, according to both polls. Bennett has said he is seeking the prime ministership himself, but has not ruled out sitting with Netanyahu.

Channel 12’s analysts noted that Bennett was in a pivotal position, given that he could also partner with parties that have vowed to never sit with Netanyahu. In that scenario, Yesh Atid, New Hope, Yamina, Yisrael Beytenu, Labor and Blue and White also could put together a 59-seat coalition, according to Channel 12. That same grouping would have 57, according to Channel 13.

Meretz has indicated that it could support such a coalition from the outside with the intent of deposing Netanyahu, while it is not clear what Ra’am would do, given that Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas has cooperated with Netanyahu in the past, but would be a highly unlikely partner for the far-right.

Israel has never had a single-party government; a coalition must win the support of at least 61 members of the 120-seat Knesset to take office.

The Channel 12 poll also asked respondents who their preferred candidate for prime minister was.

Netanyahu won 34% when compared to Sa’ar who got 31%. Netanyahu got 33% versus Bennett, who had 24%. And he polled 42% compared to Lapid, who was on 25%.

The election race has seen significant jockeying in recent days as the deadline for registering party slates loomed, with the small Jewish Home party causing a last-minute surprise by announcing Thursday night that it would neither join the hardline joint slate of national religious parties nor run independently, but would instead throw its support behind Yamina.

Jewish Home’s leader Hagit Moshe had been urged by Netanyahu to merge with  Smotrich’s Religious Zionists alliance. But Moshe said she had grown frustrated with Smotrich’s negotiating tactics in recent days, and ultimately signed an agreement with Bennett, under which she will be given a ministerial post in the next coalition if Yamina is a member.

With Jewish Home being the most moderate of the four self-identifying national religious parties, Moshe’s decision leaves Smotrich allied only with two extremist groups, Otzma Yehudit — a party led by disciples of the late racist rabbi Meir Kahane — and Noam, after saying for weeks that he planned on uniting the national religious camp into one diverse list.

Yamina’s Bezalel Smotrich and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (File; courtesy)

The last time Otzma Yehudit ran with Smotrich, in 2019, the list included Jewish Home, and garnered five seats, just above the electoral threshold.

On the other side of the spectrum, Labor leader Michaeli chose not to include ex-Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah’s Tnufa or Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s The Israelis on Labor’s slate, and both men abandoned their campaigns.

Gantz, who is barely clearing the threshold in recent polls, failed to draw any merger partners but has vowed to run “till the end.” However, Channel 12 speculated Friday that both he and Meretz could face pressure to drop out if their numbers continue to slide.

Ra’am’s Abbas defied criticism and broke away from the Joint List on Thursday, a move that seems certain to weaken the alliance of the Arab-majority political parties — thus benefiting Netanyahu — and could see Ra’am fall below the threshold.

Orly Levy-Abekasis gives a speech during a Labor-Gesher-Meretz campaign event in Tel Aviv on January 29, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Meanwhile, Netanyahu gave Orly Levy-Abekasis, a minister in the outgoing coalition, the safe slot of 26th on Likud’s slate, having earlier Thursday placed Likud’s first-ever Muslim candidate, school principal Nail Zoabi, in the 39th slot.

On Friday, Netanyahu vowed to make Zoabi a minister.

Parties cannot change their Knesset slates now that the deadline has passed, but they can withdraw from the election altogether.

The Channel 12 poll was conducted by Midgam with 505 participants and a margin of error of 4.4%. Channel 13’s poll was conducted by Camille Fuchs among 702 respondents with a margin of error of 3.6%.

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