Poll shows scant support for Edelstein in Likud leadership battle with Netanyahu

Former Knesset speaker would be wiped out in potential primaries, with support of just 6%, survey finds, though options for potential partners would open up under new party head

Benjamin Netanyahu and Yuli Edelstein are seen in the plenum hall of the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on June 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Benjamin Netanyahu and Yuli Edelstein are seen in the plenum hall of the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on June 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A day after Likud MK Yuli Edelstein announced that he’d challenge Benjamin Netanyahu for the party leadership, a television poll on Tuesday found that only a handful of Likud voters would back him and the party would suffer at the polls with him at the helm.

Among Likud voters polled by the network, a whopping 86 percent said they would back Netanyahu in party primaries, 6% would back Edelstein, and the rest were undecided.

Published by Channel 12 news, the poll found that, under Netanyahu’s continued leadership, Likud would again emerge as the largest party in potential elections, but the bloc led by Netanyahu would not be able to form a majority government — precisely as was the case in four elections in 2019-21 — holding only 56 of the 120 Knesset seats.

According to the survey, Likud would snag 34 seats, followed by Yesh Atid at 18, Shas (9), Blue and White (8), Yamina (7), United Torah Judaism (7), Labor (7), Joint List (6), Religious Zionism (6), Meretz (5) Yisrael Beytenu (5), New Hope (4), and Ra’am (4).

But in the unlikely case of Edelstein heading the Likud party, the seat distribution would look wildly different, with the party winning 20 seats, while a coalition with Yesh Atid (20), Religious Zionism (11), Shas (11), and Blue and White (11) could hypothetically give him enough leeway to form a diverse government despite winning fewer seats.

That’s because several parties have said they will not sit in a government headed by Netanyahu, who is on trial in three graft cases, but would be open to joining a Likud-led coalition under another leader.

“The Channel 12 poll published tonight clearly proves what I claimed last night — the Likud under my leadership can form a full right-wing government as early as tomorrow morning. It’s either [Yair] Lapid or me. If we do not do what is necessary now — the Likud will stay out!” Edelstein tweeted on Tuesday.

The internet and telephone survey was carried out for Channel 12 by Mano Geva and sampled 553 people with a margin of error of 4.4%.

Likud primaries are not currently scheduled to be held in the near future, and only registered members are eligible to vote in internal elections.

Screen capture from video of Likud MK Yuli Edelstein during an interview with Channel 12 news, on October 11, 2021. (Channel 12)

Edelstein, a former Knesset speaker, health minister and No. 2 on the Likud list, made the announcement that he would run for party leader in an interview with Channel 12 on Monday.

He said he made the decision to seek the party leadership “because the current government is simply dangerous for Israel.”

Noting that during the recent unprecedented run of four elections in two and a half years, Likud was consistently the largest party in the Knesset, Edelstein said, “Four times we failed to establish a national unity government led by Likud.”

But among Likud members polled on Tuesday, 68% said they disagreed with Edelstein’s statement that a Netanyahu-led Likud won’t return to power, 17% said they agreed, and 15% said they don’t know.

“If we don’t do some serious soul searching at home, we will remain in the opposition for many years,” Edelstein said.

Head of the opposition and Likud party leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Knesset, on October 11, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

When the Likud eventually holds party elections, the choice facing its members will not be between him and Netanyahu, Edelstein said, but rather between him and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, leader of Yesh Atid, the second-largest party in the Knesset.

Lapid is set to take over as prime minister next year and will lead a diverse coalition of right, left and center parties he largely cobbled together after elections in March. The coalition left the Likud in the opposition for the first time in over a decade.

Edelstein indicated that were he to win the party leadership, he may seek to bring Likud into the government by breaking apart the existing coalition, rather than waiting for new national elections.

Assessing that there are over 70 MKs who are members of parties with a right-wing agenda, Edelstein said “it could be that we will be able to establish a national unity government without [national] elections.”

He said he had the greatest respect for Netanyahu and his achievements, “but the facts speak for themselves: We went to elections four times [under his leadership]. Four times there were lots of seats for Likud, four times there’s no national government headed by Likud.”

Likud last held primaries in 2019. The party is famously averse to leadership changes and has been led by Netanyahu for nearly two decades.

A June TV poll found former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen is Likud voters’ preferred candidate to succeed Netanyahu if he were to quit as leader of the party. Cohen has not yet formally entered the political arena.

Asked who they would back as Likud leader if Netanyahu were to retire, 27% of Likud respondents said Cohen, followed by Likud MK Nir Barkat with 16%, according to the Channel 12 poll.

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