Poll: Kingmaker Liberman surges to 10 seats, left and right mergers ineffective

Survey shows deadlock could continue after September election, with neither bloc able to form majority coalition without Yisrael Beytenu; Netanyahu still most popular choice for PM

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman speaks at a faction meeting regarding the coalition negotiations at the Knesset, on May 27, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman speaks at a faction meeting regarding the coalition negotiations at the Knesset, on May 27, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Exactly two months ahead of the September 17 elections, a poll published Tuesday showed Avigdor Liberman still holding the deciding say in coalition negotiations as his Yisrael Beytenu party surged to 10 seats after winning just five in April. The survey also revealed that mergers between smaller parties on the left and right would not increase the sizes of their respective blocs.

The poll, commissioned by Channel 12 news, showed that a bloc formed of the right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties would still only hold 55 mandates without Liberman — not a majority in the 120-seat Knesset — and the center-left bloc would not increase in size.

According to the poll, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party would hold the largest number of seats in the Knesset with 31, and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party would hold 30 seats.

The third largest faction would be the Joint Arab List — four political parties representing Israel’s Arab minority that have announced they will reunite for the elections after only getting 10 seats in the April elections — this time around, taking 11 seats.

Blue and White head Benny Gantz, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right. (Flash90)

The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism would maintain its eight mandates and Shas would get seven seats.

Meanwhile on the left, without a merger between parties, beleaguered Labor would only get six seats, and left-wing Meretz and Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party would just scrape over the electoral threshold with four seats each.

Naftali Bennett’s New Right party, with Ayelet Shaked, would receive five mandates, while the Union of Right-Wing Parties, after a stormy week for leader Education Minister Rafi Peretz, would drop down to four. The poll shows Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut party not crossing the electoral threshold.

These results would give a bloc comprised of the right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties, without Yisrael Beytenu, 55 seats — not enough for a coalition.

The center-left block would have 44 seats, which would go up to 55 if it was joined by the Arab faction; Liberman is highly unlikely to sit in such a coalition.

Left-wing merger

Respondents were also asked about a potential merger between Amir Peretz’s Labor, Barak’s Israel Democratic Party and Nitzan Horowitz’s Meretz party, without specifying who would lead the faction.

L-R: Labor chair Amir Peretz, Meretz chair Nitzan Horovitz, Israel Democratic Party chair Ehud Barak. (Flash90)

In that scenario, Likud would still take 31 seats but Blue and White would drop to 28. The united faction would win 15 mandates — one more than if the parties ran separately.

Such a union on the left would strengthen Liberman’s position, the poll showed, taking Yisrael Beytenu up to 11 seats, but would not affect the number of mandates of any other parties.

A merger between the left-wing parties would, instead of strengthening a center-left bloc with Blue and White, weaken it — taking it down from 55 seats to 54. The right-wing bloc would remain at 55 seats and Liberman would again hold the key, but in this scenario with 11 seats rather than ten.

Right-wing merger

The poll also asked voters about a possible merger between right-wing parties — New Right, Union of Right-Wing Parties and Otzma Yehudit — led by former justice minister Ayelet Shaked.

Naftali Bennett, left, and Ayelet Shaked, right. (Flash90)

Such a merger would win 12 seats and cause the Likud party to drop down to 28 mandates with Blue and White holding 30 — meaning that Benny Gantz would likely be given first crack at forming a government.

In this scenario, the Joint (Arab) List would take 11 seats, Yisrael Beytenu 10 mandates, United Torah Judaism would take 8 seats, Shas would hold 7, Labor would win six seats and Israel Democratic Party and Meretz would both take four. Zehut would not pass the threshold.

Again, a right-wing bloc with the ultra-Orthodox would hold 55 seats and a center-left bloc with the Arab parties would also have 55 seats. Liberman would remain kingmaker with 10 mandates.

Netanyahu or Gantz?

When pollsters asked who was most suited to be prime minister, 40% of respondents chose Netanyahu and 30% picked Gantz — a slight drop for the Blue and White leader from previous surveys. A further 22% said neither was suitable for the position and 9% said they didn’t know.

Gantz said Sunday night that he was “in talks with Likud’s representatives” about the possibility of forming a national unity government without Netanyahu following the election.

Last month it was reported that Likud officials were seeking a deal to form a unity government with Blue and White that would see the upcoming elections canceled. Gantz’s centrist party, however, said that such a move would only be possible if  Netanyahu stepped down.

The survey, conducted by iPanel among a 508-strong representative sample of Israeli voters on July 15-16, had a 4.4% margin of error.

Israelis went to the polls on April 9, and 65 of the 120 MKs who were elected then recommended Netanyahu as prime minister. But over the subsequent weeks of talks, Netanyahu failed to negotiate a majority coalition, with Liberman refusing to join because he was not given a guarantee that a bill regulating the drafting of ultra-Orthodox males into the IDF would be passed in its current form.

Rather than allow another MK the opportunity to try to form a majority coalition, Netanyahu successfully pushed for the dissolution of the Knesset on May 30, setting another election for September 17.

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