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Poll: 62% of voters who backed Netanyahu’s rivals want Bennett to form coalition

TV survey: Nearly 2/3 think Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid should step aside to let the Yamina chief lead government; 80% dissatisfied with election results and expect 5th vote

Left to right: Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid (Miriam Alster/Flash90); Yamina party chief Naftali Bennett; and New Hope party head Gideon Sa'ar (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Left to right: Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid (Miriam Alster/Flash90); Yamina party chief Naftali Bennett; and New Hope party head Gideon Sa'ar (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Nearly two-thirds of voters who backed parties seeking to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power believe his chief rival, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, should stand aside and let Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett be prime minister instead, according to a Channel 13 survey published Wednesday.

The opinion poll also found widespread dissatisfaction among Israelis with the inconclusive election outcome, with 80 percent of respondents expressing disappointment with the stalemate and predicting a fifth round of elections within two years would be called.

The poll came amid continued political deadlock following last week’s election,  which saw neither Netanyahu’s allies nor his rivals muster enough seats to form a coalition. In the absence of a clear winner, Netanyahu’s rivals in the so-called “change bloc” — composed of centrist, right-wing and left-wing parties — were clamoring to muster enough support to form a government instead of the Likud leader, but were split on who should lead such a coalition.

Likud won 30 seats in the election, becoming the largest party. Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid won 17 of the Knesset’s 120 seats in the election, while Bennett’s right-wing Yamina picked up seven. Both Bennett and New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar, also of the bloc opposing Netanyahu, are against Lapid becoming prime minister and talks are underway for a possible premiership power-sharing agreement.

According to the survey, 62 percent believe Bennett should lead the next government, while just 32% said that the Yesh Atid chief should be prime minister.

Yamina party leader MK Naftali Bennett attends a Channel 12 news conference in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

However, among all voters — those for and against Netanyahu remaining in power — 51% said they would rather see Bennett enter a Netanyahu-led government, while 49% said Bennett should rotate the premiership with Lapid.

Among those who back Netanyahu remaining in office, 45% said they were in favor of establishing a government even if it required cooperation with the Islamist Arab party Ra’am, while 39% rejected the idea.

Ra’am, with just four seats, could be also in a position to tip the balance for either bloc. Lapid has courted Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas, who is reportedly leaning towards supporting a Likud government from the outside. Collaboration with Ra’am faces strong opposition from within Likud and its religious Zionist allied parties who accuse the party of being anti-Zionist and supporting Palestinian terrorism.

Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas at the party headquarters in Tamra, on election night, March 23, 2021. (Flash90)

The poll also found that 80% of the public is not satisfied with the outcome of the election, which, like all the previous votes in the past two years, ended with no party or bloc having a clear path to form a government. That disappointment was equal among both those who back Netanyahu and those who were hoping for change.

The remaining 20% said they were satisfied with the outcome.

With political deadlock apparently still in place, 80% of those who responded said they expect a fifth round of elections within two years, while the rest predicted a stable government would be established.

The survey, conducted by Camil Fuchs, sampled 707 respondents of which 603 were Jewish and 104 of other ethnicities. The margin of error was given as 3.5%.

Respondents were presented with a scenario in which a Netanyahu-led bloc would include his Likud party along with the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, and the far-right Religious Zionism party.

A coalition for change was given as being founded on Yesh Atid with Blue and White, Yisrael Beytenu, New Hope, Labor and Meretz.

The poll came as Netanyahu appealed directly to Bennett and Sa’ar, urging them to both join him in forming a coalition. Sa’ar flatly rejected the offer, while Bennett’s Yamina gave an ambiguous response.

Before the election, both Sa’ar and Bennett said they want to see Netanyahu removed from power, but also vowed to not let Lapid be prime minister.

Though Lapid is reportedly willing to let Bennett serve first in a coalition that would see them rotate the premiership, he insists on being the one recommended to President Reuven Rivlin to try cobbling together a coalition.

An election campaign billboard for the Likud party that shows a portrait of its leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and opposition party leader Yair Lapid. Netanyahu’s portrait is defaced with Hebrew that reads, ‘Go home,’ in Ramat Gan, Israel, Sunday, March 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Quoted by both the Ynet news site and the Maariv daily Wednesday morning, Yesh Atid sources said that Bennett could not be trusted to work to replace Netanyahu and that the focus of the “change bloc” over the coming week should be on ensuring Rivlin does not task Netanyahu with forming a government following next week’s consultations with faction representatives on whom they back for prime minister.

Channel 12 on Wednesday night reported that Lapid has passed along a message to the Yamina party that he is prepared to accept a scenario in which Bennett will be prime minister, so long as he agrees to first pledge that he will not join a Netanyahu government. That report did not specify whether Lapid is willing to split the premiership with Bennett in a rotational capacity or whether Bennett would be the sole prime minister. Both sides are hesitant to be the first to move on the deal, Channel 12 said.

Rivlin will hold two days of consultations beginning April 5 on whom each party backs to form the next government. He will task a lawmaker with doing so by April 7.

President Reuven Rivlin (R) receives the official election results from Central Elections Committee chairman Uzi Vogelman at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, March 31, 2021. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Though some parties have already declared their support for either Netanyahu or those who oppose him, Ra’am and Yamina have not yet committed to either bloc.

Lapid has met with several fellow faction leaders in recent days as part of coalition-building efforts. He has so far been endorsed by Yisrael Beytenu (7 seats), Labor (7) and Meretz (6) to form the next government — for a total of 37 backers.

Five members of the 6-strong Joint List are reportedly set to recommend Lapid as well. Benny Gantz said Tuesday his Blue and White party (8 seats) would “automatically” back Lapid, provided that support would lift him to a 61-strong majority in the 120-member Knesset.

Netanyahu, whose Likud won 30, can also expect the endorsement of the Shas (9), United Torah Judaism (7) and Religious Zionism (6) parties — 52 seats in all.

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