Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz could emerge as the leader of Israel’s center-left, according to a poll released Friday, but is not seen by a majority of Israelis as a future prime minister.
Speculation over Gantz’s political future has swirled this year with the expiration of his legally required “cooling off” period, under which former top security officials must wait three years after retiring before entering politics. Gantz, 59, left the military in 2015 after a four-year stint as head of the Israel Defense Forces that saw him command the 2014 Gaza war.
Though Gantz has yet to formally announce his entry to politics, reports have indicated he has decided to do so and will probably set up his own party rather than join an existing center-left or centrist faction to which his name has been linked.
Despite his reported intention to go alone, 91 percent of Zionist Union supporters told Hadashot TV news Friday they support Gantz joining the center-left bloc, while 65% of those who back the centrist Yesh Atid are in favor of the former general joining the party.
Though less popular among right-wing voters, a majority still support Gantz joining their ranks, with 61% of the center-right Kulanu and 51% of the ruling Likud saying they are in favor of him joining their respective parties.
These numbers appeared to reflect the high favorability ratings Gantz has among the Israeli public, with 57% of poll respondents saying they have a positive view of him and only 10% with a negative opinion, coming in ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 46% favorable to 48% unfavorable ratings.
Although better liked than Netanyahu, the survey suggested Gantz would likely struggle to become Israel’s next prime minister, with only 14% saying he is suitable to serve as premier, while Netanyahu was the public’s preferred choice at 36%. Gantz did however do better on this score than a number of incumbent party leaders, among them Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennett of the national-religious Jewish Home party and Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay.
With this, 52% of respondents said the role most suited to Gantz is defense minister, compared to 10% who said prime minister and 25% other. Furthermore, only 47% said they believe the former IDF chief should enter the political arena.
A poll from earlier in September cited by Hadashot on Friday predicted that Gantz, at the head of his own new party, would win 13 seats if elections were held today.
Earlier this month, Giora Inbar, a retired IDF brigadier general and close friend of Gantz, told Army Radio that Gantz has decided to enter politics and will unveil his party affiliation ahead of the next elections, which are currently scheduled for November 2019.
Inbar also said recent rumors claiming that Gantz had been promised a seat on the Likud Knesset slate were false after the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported that Netanyahu had recently offered to appoint Gantz his foreign minister.
Gantz is generally believed to be looking to enter politics on the center-left. Reports first surfaced in June in the Hebrew-language press about him exploring the option of joining the Zionist Union party as its candidate for prime minister.
Polls in recent months have found that Gantz stood the best chance among the current crop of prospective Zionist Union leaders of challenging the three-term incumbent Netanyahu for the premiership. Conversely, a July poll in Yedioth Ahronoth found that if he decided instead to launch his own party, he would divide support on the left and all but shatter those chances.
Nevertheless, Hadashot news said earlier this month that Gantz is expected to form his own party. As the leader of his own party, even if didn’t fare particularly well, he would be in a stronger position to negotiate a role in the next coalition after elections than as the member of one of the other two parties, the network reported.
In January, Gantz said during a conference in Eilat that it would “take some time” before he entered politics, but indicated that he was in talks with several political parties.