Poll predicts slight edge for Netanyahu over Gantz if direct elections were held
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Poll predicts slight edge for Netanyahu over Gantz if direct elections were held

PM gets 40% support in survey compared with 36% for rival, with 24% undecided; option floated in recent days seen as very unlikely

This combination picture created on September 18, 2019 shows, Benny Gantz (R), leader of the Blue and White political alliance, waving to supporters in Tel Aviv early on September 18, 2019, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing supporters at his Likud party's electoral campaign headquarters in Tel Aviv early on September 18, 2019. (Emmanuel Dunand and Menahem Kahana / AFP)
This combination picture created on September 18, 2019 shows, Benny Gantz (R), leader of the Blue and White political alliance, waving to supporters in Tel Aviv early on September 18, 2019, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing supporters at his Likud party's electoral campaign headquarters in Tel Aviv early on September 18, 2019. (Emmanuel Dunand and Menahem Kahana / AFP)

A poll published Tuesday predicted a close race if direct elections for prime minister were held in a bid to solve the current political stalemate — a far-fetched option floated this week by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri.

During a Monday meeting of the bloc of right-wing and religious parties that have vowed to support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Shas chairman raised the idea, saying that a direct public vote for prime minister between Netanyahu and Blue and White chief Benny Gantz could prevent a full-blown third Knesset election in a year. Netanyahu, however, was said to have rejected the move out of hand, suggesting that it would not solve the impasse.

A source close to Netanyahu was quoted Tuesday evening by the Kan public broadcaster as calling the proposal “stupid.”

The ruling Likud party earlier Tuesday denied that Netanyahu was planning to push for the immediate and drastic change to Israel’s election law that would reintroduce a direct election.

Despite pundits agreeing that the likelihood of such a move going forward is very low, Channel 12 on Tuesday aired results of a survey conducted on the matter.

According to the results, had those elections been held today, Netanyahu would get the support of 40 percent of Israelis, slightly more than Gantz’s 36%. The remaining 24%, almost one in four respondents, said they were undecided or that they wouldn’t show up to vote.

Among those who described themselves as right-wing voters, 66% said they would vote Netanyahu, 15% said they would back Gantz and 19% were undecided or wouldn’t vote.

Of the self-described center-left voters, 67% said they would support Gantz, 7% would vote Netanyahu, and 26% said they don’t know or would not vote.

The poll was conducted by the Midgam polling agency, in association with the iPanel online polling agency. Channel 12 did not detail the margin of error or the number of respondents.

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 )

Last month, President Reuven Rivlin tasked Gantz with attempting to form a coalition, after Netanyahu failed in the wake of the September elections. But his chances of succeeding where the prime minister failed are seen as just as slim, with Netanyahu’s 55-strong bloc of supporting lawmakers from his Likud, right-wing, and religious parties refusing to budge.

Blue and White has called for a unity government with Likud, but without its allied ultra-Orthodox and hard-right parties. Likud has refused to negotiate outside of Netanyahu’s bloc of supporters.

While a direct election for prime minister would automatically determine who would form the government, it would not change the coalition arithmetic, and the winner would still need to form a coalition from the same parties elected in September.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with his right-wing and religious allies, in the Knesset on November 4, 2019 (Courtesy)

Israel briefly experimented with direct elections for prime minister in the 1990s — Netanyahu’s first election to the premiership, when he defeated Shimon Peres in 1996, was also Israel’s first direct election for prime minister — but quickly reverted back to voting for parties, rather than individuals, because it proved too hard to form a coalition following the vote.

Despite Netanyahu’s reported rejection of Deri’s proposal, the newly elected Likud Knesset faction chairman, MK Miki Zohar, said on Tuesday that the prime minister would support the idea.

“If and when we have to be dragged into another election, we will ask that there be [only] a direct choice between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Benny Gantz. We want this Knesset to remain and we will ask for a direct election. I think that should happen and I also think that Netanyahu will eventually agree to that,” Zohar told the Ynet news site.

“I think he is considering it and I think that ultimately it is the right thing for him and for the country. The ideal solution for me is direct elections without a day off [from work]. It doesn’t cost the state money and we end the political impasse in one day,” he added.

Speaking Tuesday morning to the Anti-Defamation League’s third annual Israel Social Cohesion Summit, New Right chairwoman Ayelet Shaked said that “Deri’s direct election initiative in the current situation is the right thing to do. We will support it.”

Elections in April, and then again in September, did not give either Likud or Blue and White a clear path to forming a coalition with other parties, nor have the two parties been able to agree on a unity government. So far, political figures on all sides and the president have said they want to do everything possible to avoid sending the country to a third vote.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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