Likud slips, Lapid rises, but gridlock seen if new election

Poll: 43% back Bennett-Lapid coalition, but only 25% of Yamina voters approve

Unity government seen as preferred choice over one led by Bennett and Netanyahu; two-thirds of New Hope voters want Sa’ar to enter coalition with ‘change bloc’

Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett (left) and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid during the swearing-in ceremony of the 24th Knesset, at the Knesset building in Jerusalem, April 6, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)
Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett (left) and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid during the swearing-in ceremony of the 24th Knesset, at the Knesset building in Jerusalem, April 6, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

Almost half of Israelis back a unity government jointly led by Yamina party chairman Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, according to a poll published Tuesday hours before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s midnight mandate to form a new government expired. The survey also indicated that should Israel go to fifth election it would likely remain gridlocked.

Forty-three percent of respondents to the Channel 13 poll said they back a government that would see Bennett and Lapid rotate as prime minister, while a third backed a Bennett-Netanyahu coalition.

The poll only gave those two coalitions as options. About a quarter of the respondents didn’t back either option.

Yamina voters, however, were not enthused about the prospect of teaming up with Lapid. Only 24% of the party’s voters supported joining a “change” government. Over half said they prefer Bennett join with Netanyahu, while a quarter opposed both options.

Among supporters of Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party, which opposes joining a Netanyahu-led government, two-thirds backed a government of anti-Netanyahu parties, according to the survey.

In the case of direct elections for prime minister — a proposal Netanyahu has been pushing, but that was shelved earlier Tuesday due to lack of support — 41% of respondents said they would vote for Netanyahu, versus 36% for Lapid.

If new elections were held today, the poll said Likud would remain the largest party, but shrink from 30 to 28 seats. Yesh Atid would grow to 21 seats from its 17, while Yamina would become the third-largest party with 11 seats, up from its current seven.

The survey said Shas would drop to seven seats from nine, and that United Torah Judaism and Labor would stay on the seven they currently have. Blue and White would remain at eight, while both New Hope and Joint List would retain their current strength of six seats apiece.

The right-wing secularist Yisrael Beytenu party would slip to five seats from seven; Meretz would slip to five from its current six, as would the far-right Religious Zionism. The Islamist Ra’am party was forecast to again win four seats.

Overall, the “change bloc” of anti-Netanyahu parties would have 58 seats, while Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc would have 47 — down from its current 52 — both short of a majority in the 120-seat Knesset. Such an outcome would again position Yamina and Ra’am as potential kingmakers or in Bennett’s case, even king.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 21, 2021.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Asked what they believe the chances are of a fifth round of elections since April 2019, 60% of respondents said that was the most likely outcome.

The internet poll, conducted by the “Midgam Project,” included 669 respondents and had a 3.8% margin of error, according to the network.

With Netanyahu failing to form a government by midnight, President Reuven Rivlin has up to three days to decide what to do next. Rivlin could give the mandate to another MK — likely Lapid or possibly Bennett. Or he could throw the mandate to the Knesset, which would have 21 days to find a candidate backed by 61 or more of the 120 MKs; if it failed, Israel would automatically head to its fifth election since April 2019.

Should Lapid be tasked with forming a government next, he will be able to choose a new Arrangements Committee chair from his own party, dooming any chance that the bill for a direct vote for the prime minister will be debated in the Knesset.

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