Netanyahu claims his party is now a hair’s breadth away from Knesset majority

Netanyahu claims his party is now a hair’s breadth away from Knesset majority

PM tells supporters latest data shows Likud and its allies at 59.7 of required 61 seats; petition accuses him of violating campaign laws by disclosing survey results

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech at a Likud election rally in Ramat Gan, Feb 29, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech at a Likud election rally in Ramat Gan, Feb 29, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed Sunday that his party’s internal polling showed he was a stone’s throw away from a Knesset majority that would allow the formation of a right-wing government.

“Our data from three hours ago shows we are at 59.7 seats,” he told supporters at an election rally outside Tel Aviv, referring to his bloc of right-wing and religious parties. “We are very close to victory.”

He said “this movement [of votes] is a consistent trend of recent days, and we can bring about the formation of secure right-wing government for Israel.”

Polling in the final days before Monday’s election showed support for Likud grow slightly, possibly surpassing its rival Blue and White, though the surveys indicated the party is still several seats short of achieving a 61-seat Knesset majority without the support of Yisrael Beytenu and its leader Avigdor Liberman.

In response to his speech, Attorney Shachar Ben Meir filed a petition against Netanyahu with the Central Elections Committee on Sunday, accusing the prime minister of breaking election laws, which forbid the publication of polling data in the three days before an election.

Ben Meir demanded that Likud be fined for the violation, Haaretz reported.

The Likud party responded in a statement, saying the ban is against broadcasting or publishing polls and that Netanyahu had made “a verbal announcement” rather than publishing the results of survey.

Monday is the nation’s third election in less than a year, after neither Netanyahu nor Blue and White leader Benny Gantz were able to form coalitions in the last two rounds, and talks on a unity government fell through.

The prime minister suffered a setback Sunday evening as the far-right Otzma Yehudit party declared it would not step down — potentially costing the right-wing bloc 1-2 seats.

Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength) party holds a press conference in Jerusalem on March 1, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

If, as projected, Otzma Yehudit fails to pass the electoral threshold (3.25 percent of the vote, or four seats), any votes for it would be discounted. It has consistently been polling at around 1%-1.5%.

With less than 12 hours to go before polling stations open on Monday morning, and facing pressure from Netanyahu and other right-wing parties to quit, party chairman Itamar Ben Gvir told a Jerusalem press conference, “We are here to stay.”

Netanyahu is hoping to stretch the bloc past the 61 seats needed for a majority. Polls have shown Netanyahu’s bloc at up to 58 seats compared to 55 for a centrist-left bloc lead by Gantz, leaving Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party, predicted to win at least seven seats, holding the balance of power.

Liberman has rejected a government that includes Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox allies, saying he wants a secularist coalition. He has also ruled out allying with the Arab-dominated Joint List, whose members he has dubbed “a fifth column.”

Shas party chairman and Minister of Interior Affairs Aryeh Deri (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party claimed Sunday that should a left-leaning government be formed after the elections, Jews in Israel could be scared to wear a kippah.

“A left-wing government is likely to be formed here with the support of Liberman and the Joint List.

“If this government is formed, I’m worried that people will be scared to walk in the street with a kippah and will need to walk with a cap like in Europe,” Deri told Channel 13 news.

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

In an interview with Channel 12 on Saturday, Netanyahu said Gantz cannot form a coalition without the support of the predominantly Arab Joint List and that such a government would be “dangerous” for Israel.” He further claimed that Blue and White voters who understand this were “coming over to the Likud.”

The prime minister also called Gantz, a former army chief, a “mediocre” IDF leader — his “third choice” for the role — and said he now heads “a dictatorial party.”

Gantz told Channel 12 that the prime minister was using “mafia” tactics in the final days of the campaign and said the Israeli public was “ready for change” and the “time is now.”

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz interviewed on Channel 12 news on February 29, 2020 (Channel 12 screenshot)

“We will win these elections,” he said.

Gantz specified that he would not seek to build a coalition with the support of the Joint List and said he backed a unity government with Likud, but only without Netanyahu, who is set to go on trial in two weeks on a series of corruption charges.

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