New poll shows Gantz, Sa’ar gaining ground on PM in public popularity
44% think PM wouldn't give up his post in a rotation deal

New poll shows Gantz, Sa’ar gaining ground on PM in public popularity

Survey indicates blocs would remain the same after 3rd election; Netanyahu taking most blame for likely new national vote; majority believes PM can’t continue under indictment

In this photo taken on February 14, 2018, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves the Muni World conference in Tel Aviv (Jack Guez/AFP)
In this photo taken on February 14, 2018, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves the Muni World conference in Tel Aviv (Jack Guez/AFP)

A new poll has shown Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rivals gaining ground on him as he faces corruption charges and the prospect of leading the country to a third election in less than a year, having failed twice to secure a ruling coalition.

Friday saw widespread reports that a new election would likely be set for March 3, 2020.

According to the Channel 12 survey, Netanyahu still leads in suitability for the premiership with 39 percent, but Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz is only two points behind with 37%, where months ago he was at more than a 10-point deficit. Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s challenger from within Likud, MK Gideon Sa’ar, got only 19% of the votes.

However, Netanyahu should not write off Sa’ar, as the poll showed the general public giving him strong support as the potential next leader of Likud. While Netanyahu remains in the lead here too with 33%, Sa’ar is only a few points behind with 29%. Other Likud officials were far behind, with former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat at 7%, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein at 6% and Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz at only 1%.

Sa’ar’s demand for new primaries to lead the party has brought Netanyahu to agree with other party officials that a vote will be held in the coming weeks, should new elections be called. Only Likud members would vote in such a poll, though the survey could be indicative of the national mood, as Netanyahu loses some of his luster as the undisputed party leader.

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz delivers a statement to the press in Tel Aviv, on November 23, 2019 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The poll showed 33% of the public would blame Netanyahu for a third election, 30% would blame Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman, while only 10% would blame Gantz.

The poll also showed Blue and White and Likud largely maintaining their current strength and little change in the makeup of the Knesset that has caused months-long political gridlock: Blue and White would win 34 seats (one more than it currently has), Likud would win 33 (also a one-seat boost), the Joint List alliance of Arab-majority parties would remain at its current 13, Yisrael Beytenu would keep its current 8, the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism would each win 8 seats, New Right on its own (outside the last election’s Yamina alliance with Jewish Home and National Union) would win 6 seats, while left-wing Labor and Democratic Union would each win 5.

Jewish Home-National Union as a single faction would not pass the electoral threshold of 3.25% of the vote, with only around 2%; and the far-right Otzma Yehudit would win only some 1.9%.

Likud party MK Gideon Sa’ar seen with Likud supporters during an event in Hod Hasharon, November 25, 2019. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

The left-wing-Arab bloc would thus win 57 seats, the right-wing 55 and Yisrael Beytenu as the deciding factor for any potential coalition would have 8 — the exact same result as the current state of affairs.

Meanwhile, 52% of the public said they believed Netanyahu could not continue to serve as prime minister while facing indictment. A previous poll after charges were formally announced showed a similar result. Among right-wing voters only 34% believe Netanyahu should step down, with 57% saying the charges were not an issue.

Also of note, only 37% believed Netanyahu would actually eventually vacate his post if he were to agree with Gantz on a power-sharing deal that would see them rotate the premiership, with 44% believing the premier would not keep such a promise.

Netanyahu and Gantz traded accusations Friday over the failure to reach a compromise unity government and vowed to defeat each other in a new election.

After neither secured a majority of seats together with their respective allies in the September election, both Gantz and Netanyahu expressed their support for a unity government including both of their parties, but talks between them have failed to result in a coalition and they have traded blame for the impasse. On Tuesday, a meeting between Gantz and Netanyahu broke down after just 45 minutes.

In a video Friday, Netanyahu summed up his diplomatic achievements in a week in which he spoke to US President Donald Trump and traveled to Lisbon, Portugal to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but said he could not report on any progress on the local political deadlock.

Netanyahu said his Likud party had offered far-reaching compromises, but “Blue and White, Benny Gantz have not budged, not a millimeter, not even a nano meter.

“We are sliding toward a completely unnecessary third election that none of us want, but if they will be forced on us, we will win and win big,” Netanyahu said.

If no lawmaker manages to get the support of at least 61 members of the 120-strong Knesset by December 11, elections will be called for the third time in less than a year.

The Knesset plenum ahead of the opening of parliament, on September 25, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gantz, meanwhile, blamed Netanyahu for the impasse, saying that while their many meetings in recent years had always been cordial, the one held earlier this week was different.

“This time Netanyahu came to blow up the proceedings. He’s not the same person I know, and I know him very well,” Gantz wrote in a Facebook post.

“Despite my hopes, Netanyahu did not offer anything new that would prevent unnecessary elections. He did not agree to give up immunity, his bloc (of 55 religious and right-wing parties), and of course he did not give up on his demand to be first in a rotation” of the prime ministership. (The reference to immunity relates to Netanyahu’s anticipated bid to seek immunity in the Knesset from prosecution in the three corruption cases for which charges have been issued against him.)

“Netanyahu did not win in April, he lost in September, and if he drags us there, we will defeat him in 2020,” Gantz vowed.

If elections are held they will most likely be on March 3, the Knesset’s top legal adviser, Eyal Yinon, said Friday.

Liberman campaigned on a unity government of his party, Likud, and Blue and White ahead of elections in September and has continued to push for such an arrangement amid the ongoing deadlock in coalition talks.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman speaks at a faction meeting in the Knesset on December 2, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Liberman, in excerpts from an interview published Thursday, accused Netanyahu and Gantz of playing the blame game and said that he had tried to push them into forming a unity government but now they are both looking to better their positions via another round of elections.

After Netanyahu admitted he had failed to establish a government, the baton passed to Gantz, who was also ultimately unable to negotiate a majority coalition.

Liberman claimed to Yedioth Ahronoth that for its own interests, the correct thing for Yisrael Beytenu to do was to enter a narrow Netanyahu-led government, but that he wasn’t doing so for the greater good of the country. Yisrael Beytenu won eight seats in the last election. Likud won 32, which positioned Netanyahu at the head of a 55-seat bloc of MKs from allied right-wing and religious parties.

“That could have been a government of 63 [seats]. I could have been acting prime minister and defense minister, to get another two ministries, any [Knesset] committee I wanted, any budget that serves the interest of my party.”

No other party, he asserted, would have taken a such a decision against its own interests and for the benefit of the country.

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