A poll published on Wednesday showed that former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi could significantly boost the Israel Resilience party headed by Benny Gantz, another former top general, if he joins ahead of the upcoming April elections.
The survey published by the Kan public broadcaster forecasted 28 Knesset seats for Gantz’s party if Ashkenazi joins it, compared to 22 seats without him.
Israel Resilience is regarded as the biggest challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. However, like other recent surveys, Wednesday’s still predicted that Likud would remain the ruling party if elections were held today, winning 32 seats regardless of whether Ashkenazi joins Gantz.
The poll, conducted by the Direct Pulse institute among 718 participants, predicted that Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party would get 11 seats. Another scenario explored in the poll found that if Gantz and Lapid join forces, their joint slate would win 35 seats in parliament. However, in that case, Wednesday’s survey found, Likud would similarly get 35 seats, and has an easier path towards forming a coalition.
Talks have recently intensified between the two centrist parties ahead of a February 21 deadline to file their list of candidates with the Central Elections Committee, after which the parties cannot merge or change the order of candidates. Ashkenazi is pushing for a merger, and has reportedly promised to join such an alliance.
Following his keynote speech at Israel Resilience’s inaugural rally last week, opinion polls conducted by Israel’s three main television stations showed Gantz’s party, which he formed just last month, could win 19 to 24 seats in the 120-member Knesset. Before last week, Israel Resilience was slated to win between 12-15 seats. Several polls this week have indicated that Gantz’s popularity is holding steady even more than a week later.
Wednesday’s poll also found Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s New Right getting 7 seats, similar to previous surveys; Arab MK Ahmad Tibi’s Ta’al party is seen getting 7 seats — more than the 6 won by the Joint List alliance of other Arab parties; Labor, the current biggest opposition party, remains set for a moribund showing at 6 seats; United Torah Judaism also scores 5 while Shas, Jewish Home and Yisrael Beytenu each get 5; and Kulanu and Meretz barely squeak into the Knesset with 4 apiece.
Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Gesher party, Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua and Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut don’t pass the election threshold, according to the poll.
In all scenarios, current coalition parties will have a majority of between 63 and 65 Knesset seats that will enable them to form the next government.
That calculus could change, though, should any of the smaller parties fall below the threshold of 3.25 percent of the popular vote, and Netanyahu has begun urging smaller parties on the right to merge in order to pool their electoral strength and ensure they get into the Knesset.