Netanyahu’s Likud widens lead over Saar’s New Hope to 15 seats — poll

PM’s party leads survey with 30 seats; his challenger’s right-wing faction slides 6 seats to 15 in past month

Combo photo (from left): New Hope leader Gideon Sa'ar, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Yamina leader Naftali Bennett. (Flash90)
Combo photo (from left): New Hope leader Gideon Sa'ar, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Yamina leader Naftali Bennett. (Flash90)

A poll released on Tuesday suggested Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party is regaining supporters, while ex-Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope appears to be shedding them.

According to the poll from Channel 12, Likud would pick up 30 Knesset seats if elections were held today, down from its current tally of 36 but up from other recent surveys. In a survey published by the network on December 15, Likud was forecast to pick up 27 of the parliament’s 120 seats.

The right-wing New Hope would be the second-largest party in the Knesset with 15 seats, according to the poll. In last month’s survey, New Hope was predicted to win 21 seats.

Sa’ar split with Likud last month, calling the party a “tool for Netanyahu’s interests,” and is shaping up to be the premier’s most formidable foe in the upcoming elections.

Following New Hope in Tuesday’s poll was opposition Leader Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid with 14 seats, MK Naftali Bennett’s right-wing Yamina with 13 seats and the predominantly Arab Joint List with 10.

People walk next to election campaign billboards for Likud Party, shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Bnei Brak, Israel, March. 1, 2020 (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, part of Netanyahu’s bloc, got eight seats apiece.

Rounding out the poll were MK Avigdor Liberman’s secular right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party with seven seats, the left-wing Meretz with six, Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White with five and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s The Israelis with four.

No political party has a clear path to assembling a majority coalition.

Even if Yamina were to return to Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc, the parties would together have 59 seats, two short of a majority.

It remains far from clear that parties opposed to Netanyahu could put aside their differences to form a government without him.

A handful of smaller parties was expected to fall below the electoral threshold and fail to make it into the Knesset. With 3.25%, Yaron Zelekha’s New Economic party was closest to clearing the threshold, followed by Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism faction, the left-wing Labor, the center-right Gesher, Ofer Shelah’s center-left Tnufa, Itamar Ben-Gvir’s far-right Otzma Yehudit and Moshe Ya’alon’s center-right Telem.

Some of those parties are expected to merge with others ahead of a February 4 registration deadline.

According to Channel 13, Huldai and Ya’alon are in “advanced talks” to merge, with an agreement expected within a week.

Elections — the fourth in two years — were called last month after the power-sharing government of Likud and Blue and White failed to agree on a budget by a December 23 deadline. The election will be held on March 23.

While horse-race polls are an almost daily occurrence in Israel in the months leading up to elections and are not seen as overly reliable, taken together the surveys can often serve as a general gauge of the political climate and where the vote may be headed.

The survey, conducted by pollster Manu Geva, included 504 respondents and had a 4.4 percent margin of error.

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