After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Gideon Sa’ar of seeking to oust him, a poll released Thursday found that the ruling party would lose seats in fresh elections if it were headed by Sa’ar, but still remain the largest faction in the Knesset.
Sa’ar is a popular former Likud minister seen as a potential challenger to Netanyahu.
According to the Channel 10 news survey, if elections were held now, Likud would get 30 Knesset seats under Netanyahu, as opposed to 25 under Sa’ar. The party has 30 seats in the current Knesset.
The second-largest party would be the centrist Yesh Atid party, led by MK Yair Lapid, which the survey found would win 19 seats whether squaring off against Netanyahu or Sa’ar. Yesh Atid currently has 11 MKs and sits with the opposition in parliament.
While the right-wing Jewish Home and Yisrael Beytenu parties would win 10 and 5 seats, respectively, if Netanyahu heads Likud, the poll found Jewish Home would pick up three of the seats lost by the ruling party under Sa’ar, while Yisrael Beytenu would get the other two.
Other parties would not be affected by a change in Likud leadership, though elections would shuffle many of the remaining Knesset seats.
The Joint (Arab) List would win 14 seats in an election — one more than it currently has, and left-wing Meretz would gain three seats to finish with eight overall.
Ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism would keep its six seats, Kulanu would drop from 10 to seven seats, and Yisrael Beytenu would also remain steady with five seats. Shas, another ultra-Orthodox party, would drop from seven to four seats.
The largest change would be for opposition leader the Zionist Union, which would suffer a sharp drop, losing half its seats to win just 12.
Sa’ar has been back in the headlines after Netanyahu accused him of trying to orchestrate a “coup” that would see him ascend to the Likud leadership and the prime-ministership after the next elections.
On Thursday Sa’ar demanded that Netanyahu either provide evidence or retract his claim.
The pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom reported Wednesday that Netanyahu has been delaying calling early elections amid fears that President Reuven Rivlin would task Sa’ar with forming a government.
Netanyahu then publicly accused Sa’ar of plotting to replace him, calling the alleged plan the “conspiracy of the century.”
Sa’ar, who left politics in 2014 before announcing his comeback last year, earlier dismissed the allegations in Israel Hayom as “false” and a “ridiculous conspiracy theory.” A spokesperson for Rivlin also denied the report on Wednesday.
In a separate poll aired Thursday by Hadashot TV news, 17 percent of respondents said they believed Netanyahu’s version of events, while 35% said they believed Sa’ar. Among Likud voters, 37% sided with the prime minister and only 13% with Sa’ar.