Poll finds Blue and White voters split over possible Arab-backed government
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Poll finds Blue and White voters split over possible Arab-backed government

Most Israelis want Gantz to cobble together a coalition, but few support any of his limited options for doing so

Blue and White chair Benny Gantz (C) meeting with leaders of the Joint List alliance, Ayman Odeh (L) and Ahmed Tibi, October 31, 2019. (Ofek Avshalom)
Blue and White chair Benny Gantz (C) meeting with leaders of the Joint List alliance, Ayman Odeh (L) and Ahmed Tibi, October 31, 2019. (Ofek Avshalom)

Voters for Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party are split over the possibility of his forming a minority ruling coalition that would depend on the support of Arab-majority parties to remain in power.

A poll by Army Radio found Monday that while a majority of Gantz’s voters, 52 percent, support such a government, fully 44% oppose the idea.

The poll, carried out by the Midgam polling firm with iPanel, asked the question: “Do you agree or disagree that in light of the current political circumstances, a government must be formed, even if it means cooperating with the Joint List?” The Joint List is an alliance of four mostly-Arab parties.

Among all Israelis, Jewish and Arab alike, only 34% supported such cooperation, while 59% opposed it.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz speaks during a memorial ceremony marking 24 years since the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, in Gan Shmuel on November 10, 2019 (Flash90)

The station’s report on the poll was limited. It did not note, for example, whether Arabs supported or opposed the move.

The poll suggests that while most Israelis say they want Benny Gantz to succeed in forming a government, there is little support for most of the options available to him for cobbling together a coalition.

On Saturday, a “Peace Index” survey conducted for Channel 12’s “Meet the Press” program found that 54 percent of respondents want Gantz to succeed rather than have the country face an unprecedented third election in under a year; 30.2% want him to fail and 15% are undecided.

Yet Gantz does not have a parliamentary majority if he cannot break up Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing-Haredi bloc. Otherwise his only hope for forming a government would be the creation of a left-leaning government with Labor-Gesher, Democratic Camp and Yisrael Beytenu that would require Arab-party votes to survive no-confidence motions and pass a state budget — the two legal requirements for a government to survive in power.

Netanyahu may be working to push Gantz into such a government, assuming it would be inherently unstable and would open Gantz to the accusation in the next election cycle that he was led and controlled by non-Zionist Arab factions — a claim that already played a major role in Likud’s April and September election campaigns.

President Reuven Rivlin last month tasked Gantz with attempting to form a coalition, after Likud’s Netanyahu failed in the wake of the September 17 elections.

President Reuven Rivlin (right) presents Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz with the mandate to form a new Israeli government, after Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to form one, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on October 23, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But Gantz’s chances are seen as just as slim, with a Netanyahu-led bloc of 55 lawmakers Likud formed with ultra-Orthodox and national-religious factions vowing to only enter a government together, leaving Gantz without enough small-party support to obtain a Knesset majority.

The latest Army Radio poll also asked if Yisrael Beytenu, the secularist Russian-speaking party that has driven the current political impasse by refusing to join a right-wing-Haredi coalition and demanding a broad unity government, was hurt by the political chaos.

The findings were encouraging for Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, with 9% of respondents saying they did not vote for his party in September but were “considering” doing so in a third race, potentially almost doubling his current 8-seat faction size.

The finding is good news for Gantz as well, as some two-thirds of that potential new support for Liberman comes from the right, Army Radio said.

Yisrael Beytenu leader MK Avigdor Liberman at a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, October 28, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Combined with a one-seat gain to 9 Knesset seats in a Sunday Channel 13 poll, the finding adds to evidence that Liberman has not been hurt by the political stalemate.

Army Radio also asked about Naftali Bennett’s recent appointment as defense minister, a move widely seen as a bid by Netanyahu to shore up his rightist alliance in order to deny Gantz the parliamentary path to a coalition.

Respondents were split down partisan lines about whether such an allegedly politically motivated appointment to the vital defense post was “appropriate.” Forty-one percent said it was appropriate (including 61% of Likud voters), while 43% said it was not.

New Right MK Naftali Bennett arrives at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on September 18, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Almost half, 46%, were “sure” it was politically motivated, but half of those, largely hailing from the right, said they didn’t care.

The poll also asked whether voters thought Netanyahu should resign if indictments are filed against him, as expected, in the coming months.

The answers here, too, fell along partisan lines. Some 70% of Gantz voters said Netanyahu should step down as soon as the indictments are filed, while some 70% of Netanyahu voters think he should only step down when he’s convicted after a trial.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a memorial ceremony marking 24 years since the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, in the Knesset, on November 10, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

In all, 39% say he should step down as soon as indictments are filed, 14% when his trial begins, and 34% only when he’s convicted.

Finally, asked who was more fitting to serve as prime minister, Netanyahu continues to edge out Gantz at 44% to 39%.

If Gantz fails and the country goes to new elections, that may not solve the political problem. Most Israelis, according to the Saturday Peace Index survey, plan to vote the same way they voted in April and September.

Asked whether, in the case of a third election, they would vote for the same party, 67.9% answered in the affirmative, 6.6% said they would cast a ballot for a different party in the same bloc, and 2.4% said they would switch blocs.

Fully 12.2% said they would not vote in such an election and 11.1% were undecided.

In a dramatic announcement Saturday night, Liberman presented an ultimatum to Netanyahu and Gantz, telling each that if they do not accept tough compromises in order to form a coalition together, he will back the other candidate and give up on his pledge to only support a national unity government.

President Reuven Rivlin meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on September 23, 2019. (Haim Zach/GPO)

The bloc has been a major stumbling block in talks between Likud and Blue and White. The two major parties have regularly blamed each other for the lack of progress in negotiations and sought to cast the other as responsible if the country is forced to go to another, third round of elections.

The president’s unity government scheme would see power equally divided between Netanyahu and Gantz, who would each serve two years as premier.

In setting out his idea in September, Rivlin implied, but did not explicitly say, that Netanyahu would take an open-ended leave of absence if or when he is indicted in one or more of the probes in which he faces charges. Under the arrangement set out by Rivlin, Gantz, as interim prime minister in such a scenario, would enjoy all prime ministerial authority.

Neither Blue and White nor Likud immediately responded to Liberman’s ultimatum but Channel 12 reported that sources in the ruling party said Netanyahu could not give up his bloc of right-wing and religious parties.

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