Hypothetical new party led by ex-IDF chief Gantz would win 13 seats, poll finds

Former army head, who has yet to enter politics, is second most popular choice for PM with 13% support; Netanyahu remains out in front with 34%

Then-IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Navy ceremony on September 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
Then-IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Navy ceremony on September 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)

A hypothetical party headed by former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz would win 13 Knesset seats if elections were held today, according to a Hadashot news poll released Monday.

In a blow to other hopeful challengers, the survey also revealed that Gantz is the second most popular choice for premier, behind incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even though he hasn’t entered politics.

Asked who they prefer for prime minister, 34 percent of respondents said Netanyahu, 13% Gantz, 9% Lapid, 5% Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon, 3% Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, and just 3% saying they backed Zionist Union chief Avi Gabbay.

Gantz’s theoretical entry into the political arena would have a significant impact on other parties’ support, but mostly by robbing seats from rivals to the ruling Likud party and not by reducing Netanyahu’s own power base, the results showed.

Former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz speaks at the annual World Zionist Conference, in Jerusalem on November 2, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

With or without Gantz on the ballot, Netanyahu’s Likud party would win the most Knesset mandates.

In the non-Gantz scenario polled by Hadashot, Likud would win 32 seats in new elections, up from its current 30, followed by Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party which would place well behind Likud with 18 seats. The party currently has 11 Knesset seats.

The Zionist Union, an alliance of Labor and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua, would place third with 15 seats, well down from its current 24.

The Joint (Arab) List would be down to 12 seats (from its current 13), Jewish Home at 7 (down from 8), Kulanu at 7 (down from 10), United Torah Judaism at 7 (down from 6), Shas at 6 (down from 7), Yisrael Beytenu at 6 (up from 5) and Meretz staying with the 5 seats its currently has.

A yet to be named party led by independent MK Orly Levy-Abekasis would win 5 seats, according to the poll.

With Gantz at the helm of a new faction, however, the Likud would win 28 seats, Yesh Atid 14, Gantz’s party 13 and the Zionist Union just 10 seats.

Recent media reports claimed that Zionist Union head Avi Gabbay has been courting Gantz with a proposition to be number two in the faction’s roster, and an offer to become defense minister if the party won the next election.

Zionist Union head Avi Gabbay leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on June 18, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Gantz, 58, who served as the military’s chief of staff from February 2011 until February 2015, commanded the 2014 war in Gaza.

He and the army drew considerable criticism in a state comptroller report published in February 2017, which said it had not adequately prepared to face the threat of Hamas attack tunnels dug under the border with Israel.

In January, Gantz said during a conference in Eilat that it would “take some time” before he entered politics, but indicated that he was in talks with several political parties.

According to a mandatory “cooling off” period requiring IDF generals to wait some three years after leaving the army before they can enter politics, Gantz will be able to stand for office in October this year.

On Sunday, Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern presented a petition to the High Court calling to cancel the “cooling off” law, a move seen as a sign that the party may also be courting Gantz. While not confirming such efforts, Lapid has repeatedly said he is “talking to many people” about the possibility of joining the party.

Yesh Atid party leader MK Yair Lapid (center) together with Amit Deri (2nd right) IDF reserve officers and soldiers at a press conference against the Breaking the Silence group, December 20, 2015. (Yesh Atid spokesperson)

Beyond showing support for Gantz, if he were to choose to run, the poll indicated support for Netanyahu and the Likud had slipped back a little to previous levels, after US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal saw a surge in the prime minister’s popularity.

Polls conducted by media outlets this year have shown support for Netanyahu and his hover around the 30-seat mark, but a poll conducted by Army Radio in May showed a huge jump for the Likud to a 45-seat majority.

In April, a Channel 10 news poll predicted the Likud would receive 32 Knesset seats if elections were to be held then. The TV station ran the same poll earlier this month, and again showed the prime minister’s party winning 32 seats, keeping it as the largest faction in parliament.

Israeli polls, however, have often proved unreliable, with it being hard to forecast results when the balance between right- and left-wing blocs can be tight, and so many parties competing for seats.

In Israel’s pure proportional representation system, furthermore, votes for the parties that fail to clear the electoral threshold are redistributed among the parties that do clear it.

The partial results of the survey that were released did not include how many people were polled or specify the margin of error.

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