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Poll shows nearly half Likud members back Netanyahu taking time out

Former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat the most popular choice to take over, with 45%; Likud MK Kisch dismisses survey as a ‘lie’ aimed at ‘subversion’

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits in the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem, June 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits in the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem, June 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Nearly half of Likud’s members back the idea of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu temporarily stepping aside and letting another of the party’s lawmakers take over for him in order to thwart an emerging coalition formed by parties aiming to oust the premier, according to a new poll.

A significant portion of the putative regime-changing coalition comprises right-wing or centrist parties that are refusing to join Likud in a government if it is headed by Netanyahu. Likud, if joined by those parties from the so-called change bloc, would otherwise have an easy path to a clear majority in the Knesset together with its other allies.

The poll, published Wednesday by Army Radio, which said it had been commissioned by a “political figure,” found that 47.3 percent of Likud members support Netanyahu taking the measure as an alternative to him leading the party into the opposition.

A slightly higher figure, 48.9%, responded that Likud should join the opposition rather than see longtime leader Netanyahu replaced, even temporarily.

The rest said they do not have an opinion on the matter.

As for which Likud lawmaker should replace Netanyahu were he to vacate the prime minister’s seat, former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat had the most backing with 45.3%.

Finance Minister Israel Katz, a senior Likud politician who has indicated that he wants to be Netanyahu’s successor, won the support of just 13.3%, according to the poll.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, who intends to challenge Netanyahu for the Likud leadership if the party goes into the opposition, got just 5.9%.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud MK Nir Barkat present the Likud economic plan, during a Likud party event in Tel Aviv on February 16, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The poll, conducted by Direct Polls, sampled 505 Likud members and has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch of Likud rejected the poll results and insisted to Army Radio that Netanyahu continues to have overwhelming backing from his party.

“This lie that was ordered by a political figure is revolting,” Kisch said of the poll.

Calling the poll “subversive,” Kisch said that he imagines it was ordered by someone in the Likud party itself but he does not know who.

He noted that Netanyahu had convincingly won Likud primaries in 2019 when he defeated a challenge from former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar. Sa’ar left Likud in 2020 to start the New Hope party, which intends to be part of the change coalition.

Likud has put off holding another round of primaries since then, amid political turmoil that saw four inconclusive elections in two years and that resulted in the current situation.

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch speaking by video to the Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee, October 1, 2020. (Channel 13 screen capture)

Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid on Wednesday morning said to be closing in on finalizing agreements that would bring together parties from the left, right and center to form a government. If successful, the coalition would end 12 years of successive rule by Netanyahu, who is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. However, parties are said to still be jostling for position on final matters.

Time is running out for Lapid, who has only until midnight Wednesday to inform President Reuven Rivlin that he has completed the task or else his mandate to do so will expire and the job of forming a government will automatically pass to the Knesset. Netanyahu, who was initially mandated to form a government in the wake of March elections, failed to do so in his allotted time and the task was passed on to Lapid.

Asked if he thought a coalition would indeed be formed, Kisch said he believed the last-minute negotiations are just posturing because the parties involved have “gone all in,” having already paid a political price for even considering working with each other.

Should Lapid fail, the job of forming a government will pass to the Knesset, which will have 21 days to choose a lawmaker who must then build a coalition within the three weeks, or else fifth elections will be triggered.

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