Netanyahu coalition still projected to fall short of majority if new elections held

New TV polls show hardline coalition with just 54 seats, down 10 from November vote, and opposition with at least 61 seats, if Israelis go to the polls yet again

File: An election campaign billboard for Israel's Blue and White opposition party led by Benny Gantz, right, depicting him and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud party, hangs in the city of Bnei Brak, on March 14, 2021, ahead of the March 23 general election. The writing in Hebrew reads 'Benny to the Knesset or Bibi forever.' (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
File: An election campaign billboard for Israel's Blue and White opposition party led by Benny Gantz, right, depicting him and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud party, hangs in the city of Bnei Brak, on March 14, 2021, ahead of the March 23 general election. The writing in Hebrew reads 'Benny to the Knesset or Bibi forever.' (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

A slight bump in the polls for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ruling Likud party following last week’s military operation in the West Bank city of Jenin appears to have been short-lived, with new surveys released on Sunday reverting back to showing the premier would fail to form a coalition should fresh elections be held today.

Parties in Netanyahu’s current right-wing, hard-right and ultra-Orthodox coalition would garner 54 Knesset seats if elections were held today, losing its current majority of 64 of the 120 Knesset seats, according to the results of opinion polls broadcast on Sunday evening by two main news channels.

Opposition parties could assemble a 61-seat coalition without having to rely on the votes of the majority Arab Hadash-Ta’al party, the polls showed.

The poll by Channel 12, which surveyed 501 respondents and has a 4.4-percent margin of error, showed that if a new vote were held, Netanyahu’s Likud party would win 28 seats (down from 32 in the November 2022 elections) and would retain its title as the largest party in the Knesset.

Benny Gantz’s National Unity party would win 26 seats, up from 12 in November, and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid would win 20 seats, down from 24. In addition to gaining on the Likud, the boon for Gantz’s party also appears to come at the expense of Yesh Atid.

Gantz’s popularity as a centrist leader has risen in recent months and his National Unity party, which won 12 Knesset seats in last November’s election, has gained on the Likud amid widespread dismay over the government’s efforts to radically overhaul the judiciary.

National Unity head Benny Gantz leads a faction meeting of his party in Ramat Gan, July 9, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Gantz’s party was at the forefront of now-defunct compromise talks with the Likud on judicial reform. On Thursday, Gantz called on Netanyahu to resume the negotiations amid his hardline coalition’s renewed, fervent efforts to move ahead with the legislative package.

Lapid’s Yesh Atid sits just to National Unity’s left on the political spectrum and has taken a more hardline stance in its opposition to the overhaul and sought more strict conditions for a compromise with the coalition on the matter.

The Channel 12 poll on Sunday showed that Netanyahu’s coalition partners, the far-right union of Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit, would drop to nine seats (from 14 today) and that the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism would win 10 and seven seats, respectively, if fresh elections were held.

Pollsters also asked respondents if they would be in favor of Gantz joining Netanyahu’s coalition at the expense of far-right ministers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir, and 43% said yes, while 42% said no. It was unclear how the remainder of the respondents answered. Among respondents who would consider themselves as voting for the opposition, 55% would support such a move, according to the poll, and 36% would oppose it. Among Netanyahu bloc voters, 53% would oppose Gantz joining the coalition and 28% would be in favor.

According to the Channel 12 poll, opposition parties Yisrael Beytenu, headed by Avigdor Liberman, would win six seats (unchanged from the November elections), and the left-wing Meretz party, would gain four seats, after failing to clear the electoral threshold in the last election. The Islamist Ra’am party, which made Israeli history in the 2021 elections for joining the previous coalition headed by ex-premier Naftali Bennett, would garner five seats (like in the last vote) to give the opposition bloc a slim majority of 61 seats.

Should the mostly Arab Hadash-Ta’al alliance join, with five projected seats (unchanged from the November elections), the opposition bloc would swell to 66 seats, according to the Channel 12 survey.

The poll released on Sunday by public broadcaster Kan showed the same results but in a different configuration.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, July 9, 2023. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

The Kan survey, which polled 606 respondents and has a 4% margin of error, showed that Gantz’s party would become the largest Knesset presence with 29 seats and the Likud would drop to 28 seats.

According to the Kan poll, Yesh Atid would drop seven seats from its showing in the November vote to 17 seats if elections were held today.

The Kan poll, too, showed that the incumbent coalition would take in 54 seats with Religious Zionism-Otzma Yehudit, Shas, and United Torah Judaism winning nine, 10, and seven seats, respectively.

Yisrael Beytenu would take in six seats, Meretz would win four, and Ra’am and Hadash-Ta’al would win five, according to the Kan poll. These results would give the opposition bloc 61 seats with Ra’am, and 66 with Hadash-Ta’al, which refused to join the Bennett coalition.

The Kan poll also asked respondents who is most suited to being prime minister, with Gantz coming on top with 43% of the vote, and Netanyahu earning 35%. Put against Lapid, Netanyahu scored 38% while Lapid gets 32%, with the remainder answering that they did not know.

Israeli television polls are notoriously unreliable and respondents participated in this survey knowing that another election is not in the offing. However, they do often affect public opinion and drive decision-making among parties.

The surveys on Sunday came almost a week after the Israel Defense Forces launched a major operation in Jenin following a spate of recent terror attacks, and amid rekindled mass demonstrations against the Netanyahu government as it renews its judicial overhaul push.

Israelis protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, July 8, 2023. (Courtesy/Gilad Furst)

The Knesset is expected on Monday to approve the first reading of a bill outlawing the use of the “reasonableness” doctrine to review decisions made by the cabinet, government ministers, and other elected officials. The coalition reportedly aims to enact it into law before the Knesset breaks for summer recess at the end of July.

In turn, protest leaders have pledged to further intensify their opposition and are planning for mass demonstrations “such as has never been seen before in Israel” on Tuesday, including at the airport.

Protesters held their weekly rallies on Saturday evening across Israel for the 27th consecutive week. In Tel Aviv, Saturday’s protests were the first such demonstrations where police were commanded by Tel Aviv District deputy chief David Filo, following the departure of district head Amichai Eshed last week.

Eshed’s announcement of his resignation on Wednesday, saying he was to be transferred from the role due to politicians’ distaste for his soft approach toward demonstrators, led to spontaneous mass protests and the blocking of the Ayalon Highway for long hours.

Earlier Sunday, a succession of ministers in Netanyahu’s hardline government castigated Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara during a raucous, hours-long cabinet meeting in which she was repeatedly attacked over authorities’ handling of lawbreaking during the anti-government demonstrations. Several calls were made for her dismissal.

Baharav-Miara and other senior officials in the Justice Ministry were summoned to Sunday’s cabinet meeting to discuss how law enforcement agencies have dealt with the massive wave of protests against the government’s efforts to overhaul the judiciary, which have included blocking highways, protesting in front of public officials’ homes, and other forms of civil disobedience.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara arrives to attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, July 9, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool Photo via AP)

The Channel 12 survey asked respondents whether they support the ministers’ calls to oust Baharav-Miara, with 28% in favor of the move. Forty-one percent said they were against such a move, and the rest did not know, according to the poll.

The Kan poll asked respondents whether law enforcement should take a tougher stance with anti-government protesters who block roads, and 36% said yes. A quarter of respondents said the police were taking the right approach, and another 25% said police have been too harsh with protesters.

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