Poll: Ex-IDF chief Gantz on the rise; union with Lapid could challenge Likud

PM Netanyahu continues to hold significant lead over rivals in new survey, but a hypothetical new party running together with Yesh Atid could nip at his heels

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz attends a farewell ceremony for outgoing Israeli chief of Police Roni Alsheich, in Beit Shemesh, on November 29, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz attends a farewell ceremony for outgoing Israeli chief of Police Roni Alsheich, in Beit Shemesh, on November 29, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A political union between former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz and Yesh Atid could emerge as a serious challenger to the ruling Likud party, according to a poll released Sunday, which shows a hypothetical party run by Gantz continuing to gain traction.

The new Hadashot TV news poll conducted by the Midgam polling agency shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu maintaining a strong lead over his political rivals if elections were held today between the current parties in the Knesset plus Gantz’s still hypothetical electoral list.

But according to the poll, if Gantz, who helmed the Israel Defense Forces from 2011 to 2015 and was seen as a moderating figure, were to run on a joint ticket with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, the two could start to close in on Likud’s lead.

According to the poll of 533 respondents (with a maximum sampling error of 4.3 percent), when only taking into account an independent party headed by Gantz, Netanyahu’s Likud party would win 28 seats, a slight decrease of two seats from its current 30.

Gantz would be in second place but at a significantly fewer 16 seats, followed by Yesh Atid with 13 (up just two from its current 11),  the Joint (Arab) List with 12 and the center-left Zionist Union faction at 10. Zionist Union, which is composed of Labor and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua, has 24 seats in the current Knesset, and was polling at around 21 seats a year ago.

The pro-settlement Jewish Home party would win 9 seats, according to the poll,  while the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism would receive 7.

Next in the survey was the the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party with 6 seats, while the centrist Kulanu, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party and the as-yet-to-be-named party headed by independent MK Orly Levy-Abekasis would each pick up 5. The left-wing Meretz party would just scrape the electoral threshold with four seats.

Yesh Atid party head Yair Lapid leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 19, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

But if Gantz were to run in elections together with Lapid, the poll showed, they would win a collective 26 seats, nipping at the heels of Likud’s 29.

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, he has reportedly gathered enough signatures to set up his own party and is said to prefer to run alone rather than join an existing center-left or centrist faction.

Sunday’s poll shows general growing support for Gantz, with the 16 predicted seats up from a June survey which gave him 13 and a poll last month that had him on 15.

Despite the gains, most polls in recent months have also shown the prime minister’s party maintaining power, and even gaining, despite corruption investigations against Netanyahu.

Elections are currently slated for fall 2019, though many analysts believe Netanyahu will call a snap poll before then.

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