A new poll released Tuesday placed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud as the top vote-getter among all parties in early Knesset elections, with a theoretical party led by Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and chief of staff Benny Gantz seen as the only faction managing to challenge the premier’s plans for a fourth straight term.
If Gantz were to join a Lapid-led Yesh Atid, the opposition party would win 26 seats, according to a poll published by the Walla news site, five behind Likud at 31.
Gantz has yet to formally declare his entry to politics, though reports have indicated he is likely set up his own party rather than joining an existing center-left or centrist faction.
If Gantz were to head his own party, it would finish second among all parties with 14 seats, less than half the Likud’s projected total of 31. Yesh Atid would finish behind Gantz’s party with 12 seats.
However, if Gantz does not end up running in the elections, the poll said Likud would pick up 32 seats, with Yesh Atid in a distant second with 17.
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.
Under the various scenarios in the poll, the national-religious Jewish Home party win would 11-12 seats, up from its current 8, while the Joint (Arab) List, an amalgamation of four Arab-led parties, would get 11 seats, down from 13.
The center-left opposition Zionist Union, an alliance of the Labor Party and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua, would pick up 9-11 seats, a precipitous drop from the 24 it now holds.
The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism would win 7-8 seats, up from 6; the left-wing Meretz 6-8 (5); Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu 5-6 (5); Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu 5-6 (10); an unnamed party headed by independent MK Orly Levy-Abekasis 5; and the ultra-Orthodox Shas 4 (7).
The survey was conducted for Walla by Panels Politics polling agency and made up of 521 respondents. It did not provide a margin of error.
The poll comes a day after the governing coalition announced it would dissolve the Knesset and schedule elections for April 9, over half-a-year before their scheduled date in November 2019.
Walla’s survey did not include former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, who announced earlier Tuesday he would form a new party to run in April’s elections, nor former prime minister Ehud Barak, who said Monday he may resurrect his political career if a center-left political bloc were formed to challenge Netanyahu.
Like Ya’alon, Barak — a former Labor leader who served as Netanyahu’s defense minister from 2009 to 2013 — has become an outspoken critic of the premier since leaving politics.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.