New polls show Likud rising, Zionist Union diving, Liberman and Shas in trouble

Surveys say Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid to become 2nd largest party; one poll has Shas, Yisrael Beytenu teetering on electoral threshold, overtaken by MK Orly Levy-Abekasis’s new party

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on February 26, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on February 26, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With the coalition facing the real possibility of collapse over a polarizing ultra-Orthodox draft bill and new elections seemingly on the horizon, new polls Monday showed Likud maintaining its current electoral power, centrist Yesh Atid climbing to second spot, and the current main opposition party, the Zionist Union, losing around half of its seats.

Surveys conducted by Hadashot news and Channel 10 showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling party sitting comfortably at 29-30 seats (compared to 30 today), well-placed to lead a new coalition were elections to be held today. Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid gains considerably with 21-24 seats (11 today) while the Zionist Union falls to 11-13 (from 24 today). Likud’s 30 seats in the Hadashot poll was its strongest showing in surveys since the 2015 elections, and marked a gradual rise in support for Netanyahu’s party in recent weeks, coinciding with the widening of graft allegations against him.

The Joint (Arab) List is projected to win 12-13 seats in the new polls (13 today), with the nationalist Jewish Home at 11 (up from the current 8). Left-wing Meretz is expected to win 7-9 seats (up from 5 today). Ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism maintains its current strength with 6-7 seats (currently 6).

Centrist Kulanu, led by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, falls from its current 10 seats to 6.

Head of the Zionist Union Avi Gabbay in Jerusalem, on February 19, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Of note was a small but important difference between the two polls: while the Channel 10 survey assumed that only the current factions would enter the Knesset in the next election, Hadashot also factored in ex-Yisrael Beytenu MK Orly Levy-Abekasis’s newly announced — and still unnamed — party.

Concurrently, while Channel 10 had Yisrael Beytenu (6 seats) and Shas (5 seats, down from 7) more or less maintaining their current electoral power, Hadashot had Levy-Abekasis winning 5 seats, with her former party and the Sephardi-Haredi bastion falling to 4 seats each — just barely passing the electoral threshold.

Meanwhile, opposition parties Yesh Atid and Meretz on Monday submitted a formal request to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to allow a vote this week on a bill to dissolve parliament and set a date for elections.

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid speaks at a meeting in the Knesset on December 25, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Zionist Union party had tried to present a dissolution bill earlier in the day, but was prevented by protocol preventing a first vote on new legislation in the final week of the Knesset sitting. On Thursday, the Knesset will go on recess after the four month winter sitting.

In a letter to Edelstein, Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg and Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelach argued that a dissolution bill should be given the same privileges as the ultra-Orthodox conscription bill, which the coalition hopes to vote on this week, in an attempt to end an ongoing coalition crisis threatening elections.

“Voting on the conscription bill will be an exception to the general rules, and the same exception should be made for the opposition,” they wrote.

Yesh Atid said Edelstein approved the request, and the dissolution bill would be allowed to go to the plenum after the conscription bill is voted on.

MK Orly Levy-Abekasis attends a Knesset committee meeting on March 15, 2017.(Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Netanyahu called on his coalition partners Monday evening to make a “supreme effort” to save the government from collapse. “If there are elections, we will face them and we’ll win too. But we’re not there yet,” he said. “The hour is late, but it is not too late.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu), a fierce opponent of the bill, which is seen as giving the ultra-Orthodox the ability to dodge the country’s mandatory military draft, was insistent on Monday that his party will oppose it, fueling speculation that a snap vote as early as June was all but assured. Should Liberman pull his Yisrael Beytenu party out of the coalition over the bill, leaving it with 61 seats out of 120, that would likely spell early elections, as Netanyahu has said repeatedly that he will not lead a government with such a razor-thin margin.

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