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Poll shows Labor rising, predicts Netanyahu’s rivals can form majority coalition

Center-left party climbs further above electoral threshold in survey after holding primaries; centrist, right-wing bloc predicted to win Knesset majority of 61 seats

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli votes in the party primaries on February 1, 2021. (Courtesy of the Labor Party)
Labor party leader Merav Michaeli votes in the party primaries on February 1, 2021. (Courtesy of the Labor Party)

A poll released Tuesday showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party slipping slightly and the left-wing Labor party rising, and predicted a potential hypothetical majority for a coalition of the premier’s rivals.

The Channel 13 poll was conducted two days before parties must submit their finalized electoral slates and 49 days before the March 23 elections.

Previous surveys have generally predicted political deadlock after the election, with no party having a clear path to assembling a majority coalition.

Labor for weeks had been predicted to fall below the electoral threshold and fail to make it into the Knesset, but the party has been rising in the polls since MK Merav Michaeli won in its leadership primary last week.

According to Tuesday’s poll, Likud was projected to win 29 seats, down three from Channel 13’s previous survey.

The center-left Yesh Atid and right-wing New Hope were neck-and-neck with 16 seats apiece; nationalist Yamina and the Arab-majority Joint List both picked up 10 seats; Labor climbed to eight seats; ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism picked up eight; ultra-Orthodox Shas and right-wing Yisrael Beytenu, seven seats each; Meretz, five; and Blue and White hovered near the electoral threshold with four seats.

Ron Huldai’s The Israelis, Ofer Shelah’s Tnufah, far-right parties led by Betzalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir and Yaron Zelekha’s New Economics all failed to cross the threshold. Moshe Ya’alon said Monday that he and his Telem party were quitting politics, after the faction repeatedly polled beneath the electoral threshold.

Support for Huldai’s new party plummeted to just 0.9% of survey respondents Tuesday, far below the 3.25% electoral threshold. Immediately after its establishment in December, the party had polled as high as nine seats.

According to the survey, a coalition of Yesh Atid, New Hope, Yamina, Labor, Yisrael Beytenu, and Blue and White would win 61 seats, giving it a majority in the Knesset. With the left-wing Meretz, it would pick up 66.

Gideon Sa’ar of the New Hope party gives a press conference as he meets with several Israeli hospital directors at their protest tent outside the Ministry of Finance in Jerusalem, demanding equal budgeting from the Ministry of Finance, on January 19, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s bloc, comprising Likud and the two ultra-Orthodox parties, meanwhile, would win just 44. Even with Yamina, such a coalition would still fall seven seats short of a majority. Leaders of other Zionist parties have not expressed a willingness to sit in a Netanyahu-led coalition.

The survey also indicated that Labor would gain three seats from a merger with Huldai and Shelah, rising to 11 seats. Labor is reported to be considering a merger with Huldai’s party.

Mergers are seen as a virtual certainty on the center-left and on the right before Thursday, to prevent votes from going to small parties that fail to enter the Knesset. Mergers typically happen between parties that are close to each other ideologically.

Netanyahu on Tuesday was again urging a merger of far-right parties, according to Channel 12.

The prime minister has promised Smotrich of the Religious Zionism party that he will place a candidate of his choice on the Likud list and will offer him at least one ministerial portfolio if he merges with Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit, the network said.

Toying with other possibilities, Tuesday’s Channel 13 survey tested what would happen if several small far-right parties merged, and if the Ra’am party ran independently from the Joint List, in what is seen as Netanyahu’s optimal scenario.

The union of far-right parties would win six seats in such an alliance, and Ra’am would win four, it predicted. Yet it still found Likud unable to form a coalition, forecasting that an outcome like this could foretell a fifth round of elections.

Asked who was best-suited to be prime minister, 35% of respondents said Netanyahu, 16% said New Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar, 9% said Yamina’s Naftali Bennett, 7% said Blue and White’s Benny Gantz, and just 4% said opposition leader Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party.

If a government is formed by Netanyahu’s rivals, 23% preferred Sa’ar to lead it; 20% said Bennett, and 19% said Lapid. But a plurality, 27%, said none of the candidates.

The survey was conducted by well-known pollster Camille Fuchs for Channel 13. It queried 703 respondents, including 604 Jews and 99 Arabs. The sampling error was 3.7%.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a statement to the media at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on November 2, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While horse-race polls are an almost daily occurrence in Israel in the months leading up to elections and are not seen as overly reliable, taken together the surveys can often serve as a general gauge of the political climate and where the vote may be headed.

The results suggest a remarkable turnaround for Labor following Michaeli’s primary win and its primary election on Monday night.

Labor has seen its fortunes tumble in recent years, hit by a rightward shift among Israeli voters, turmoil in the party, and the emergence of new political players who have eroded its base. After entering the Netanyahu government following the previous election, the party lost virtually all of its support and was predicted by many polls to fail to clear the electoral threshold and disappear.

National elections — the fourth in two years — were called after the power-sharing government of Likud and Blue and White failed to agree on a budget by a December 23 deadline.

The election, like the previous three votes, is largely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu’s rule amid his ongoing trial on corruption charges, as well as his government’s varied success battling the pandemic.

Netanyahu said Tuesday he will not seek to postpone a court hearing on February 8 in the trial that he is scheduled to attend due to the lockdown aimed at curbing Israel’s raging third-wave virus outbreak.

“Delaying my trial is not on the agenda, regardless of whether the lockdown is extended,” he said at a press conference. “This issue is absurd.”

Netanyahu and his defense team have repeatedly attempted to put off legal proceedings since the trial began last year, including a request that was rejected last week to delay the hearing on the grounds that other indictments may be filed in related cases.

Netanyahu is on trial for charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust in three cases. He denies any wrongdoing and claims to be the victim of a political coup attempt by police, state prosecutors, the media and the opposition.

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