Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party edged closer to the rival Blue and White in a series of television polls published Wednesday, the first following the release of US President Donald Trump’s peace plan a day earlier.
The three polls, which forecast continued political gridlock after the March 2 elections, also came a day after Netanyahu was indicted on graft charges — making him the first Israeli premier to become a criminal defendant while in office.
While described as the most generous US peace proposal ever for Israel, the polls indicated Israelis were split on the plan and Netanyahu’s call to move forward with annexing disputed territories in the West Bank that the Palestinians claim for a future state.
Polls tighten but deadlock remains
According to Channel 12 news, Blue and White would receive 35 seats if elections were held today, up two from its current tally. Likud, on the other hand, would get 33 seats, a one seat gain from the September election.
A Channel 13 survey gave Blue and White 35 seats to Likud’s 34, while the Kan public broadcaster gave the parties 34 and 33 seats, respectively.
Though it continued to maintain a lead over Likud, Blue and White’s margin over Netanyahu’s party was less than in other recent polls.
The Joint List of four majority Arab parties matched its present seat count of 13 in the Channel 12 poll. Channel 13 had the Joint List dropping to 12 seats and Kan had it rising to 14.
Labor-Gesher-Meretz, an alliance of Labor-Gesher with the left-wing Meretz party, received 10 seats in the Channel 13 poll, two more than in the other surveys.
Labor-Gesher picked up six seats in September. Meretz ran in the last elections as part of the Democratic Camp, which received five seats.
The ultra-Orthodox Shas, which now has nine seats, dropped to eight in the Channel 12 and Kan polls and seven in the Channel 13 survey.
United Torah Judaism, another ultra-Orthodox party, was predicted to again win seven seats by Channels 12 and 13, though Kan had it increasing to eight.
The national-religious Yamina party was forecast to maintain its strength at seven seats, but Channel 12 had it increasing to eight. Otzma Yehudit, an extreme right-wing party whose inclusion in Yamina Netanyahu pushed for, did not pass the minimum electoral threshold in any of the polls.
All of the polls had Avigdor Liberman’s right-wing secularist Yisrael Beytenu party getting eight seats, the same it received in September.
Based on the results of the polls, Liberman was also set to remain kingmaker between the Knesset blocs, with neither Netanyahu nor Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz having a clear path to a majority in the 120-seat Knesset without him.
In the Channel 12 poll, Likud and its religious allies got 56 seats, the same as Blue and White together with the center-left and Arab factions.
Kan also put the blocs at 56 seats a piece, while Channel 13 had the center-left and Arab parties at 57 seats, two more than Likud and its partners.
Support for peace plan, split over indicted PM
Asked whether they support Trump’s peace initiative, 50 percent of poll respondents told Channel 12 they did, while 24% said they opposed it. The rest did not know how they felt about the plan or hadn’t heard of it.
It was not clear if those who oppose the plan do so because they feel it is too generous or not generous enough toward Israel.
In the Kan poll, 43% of respondents said they support extending Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank and the Jordan Valley before the upcoming elections, while 28% oppose this.
Also, 61% told Kan Trump’s plan would not lead to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Ten percent said they believed it would and the rest did not know.
Asked whether Netanyahu can continue to serve as prime minister while also standing trial for corruption charges, 48% told Kan he cannot and 32% said he could.
In the Channel 12 poll, 52% said Netanyahu cannot run the state and manage his legal affairs at the same time, while 39% he can.
Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in three cases, as well as bribery in one of them. He denies wrongdoing and called the charges against him a “coup” by political rivals, investigators and media to remove him from power.
The upcoming elections are the third in less than a year, after the first two failed to produce a government, a first in Israeli history.
The Channel 12 survey was performed by pollster Manu Geva and was made up of 503 respondents with a 4.4% margin of error.
The Channel 13 poll by Kamil Fuchs had 604 respondents and 3.6% margin of error.
The Kan poll was conducted by Kantar Media and included 553 respondents. It had a 4.4% margin of error.