Poll signals neither Netanyahu nor Sa’ar have clear path to governing coalition

Likud would become largest party with 28 seats, followed by New Hope with 19, survey says; Blue and White poised to slip to just five

A composite image shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Gideon Sa'ar, right. (Flash90)
A composite image shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Gideon Sa'ar, right. (Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud would be the largest party in the upcoming election in March, according to a television poll on Sunday, which indicated that neither he nor rival Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope would be able to cobble together a coalition without the other.

The Channel 12 poll ahead of the March 23, 2021 elections — Israel’s fourth national vote in two years — found little change from previous surveys. Though Netanyahu lacked a clear path to forming a government, it was unclear from the survey results if an alternative coalition could be assembled, with the parties opposing the Likud leader divided ideologically and over the question of who should be premier.

The poll predicted 28 seats for Likud, 19 for New Hope, 16 for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid-Telem, 13 for Yamina, 11 for the Joint List, eight each for Shas and United Torah Judaism, seven for Yisrael Beytenu and five for both Blue and White and Meretz.

New Hope, Yamina, Yesh Atid, Yisrael Beytenu and Blue and White would win 60 seats between them, according to the survey, one seat shy of a majority in the 120-seat Knesset. Likud and its ultra-Orthodox allies would pick up 44 seats, which would swell to 57 if Yamina were to join them. Sa’ar’s right-wing New Hope has pledged not to join a coalition with Netanyahu.

Former Likud minister Sa’ar formed the party earlier this month, peeling away four lawmakers from Netanyahu’s party, including the prime minister’s onetime confidant Ze’ev Elkin, and vowing to challenge Netanyahu for the premiership.

Sa’ar on Sunday night doubled down on his pledge that he would not join a Netanyahu-led government.

“I intend to replace Netanyahu… Under no scenario will I join a government led by him, because his continued rule is contrary to the good of the state and we won’t compromise on that,” said Sa’ar in an interview with Channel 13.

According to the poll, a theoretical new center-left party including Labor leader Amir Peretz, Blue and White MK Avi Nissenkorn, former Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah, and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai could gain up to seven seats, weakening primarily Yesh Atid and Blue and White.

Elections were called last week after the power-sharing government of Likud and Blue and White failed to agree on a budget by a December 23 deadline.

Israelis skeptical this lockdown is the last

The Channel 12 poll also found that most Israelis view the third nationwide lockdown as a government failure — and despite an ambitious vaccination campaign, a plurality are skeptical this is the final pandemic-related closure.

Fifty-four percent of the public says it was the government’s inability to contain the surge in virus cases that resulted in the lockdown imposed Sunday for at least two weeks. Conversely, 41% disagreed with the statement, while 5% said they did not know.

A mask-clad passenger rides the Jerusalem Light Rail as it passes by the Mahane Yehuda market on December 27, 2020, before the start of a third lockdown due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.(MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

Among center-left voters, 78% saw the lockdown as the government’s failure to rein in the pandemic. Among right-wing voters, 40% blamed the government.

Asked if they believed this would be the last lockdown, 33% said yes, 42% said no, and 25% said they did not know, according to the poll.

Mask-clad people walk along the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on December 27, 2020, before the start of a third lockdown due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

The lockdown, which shut down commercial activity and kept schools open, was introduced after virus cases leaped to more than 3,000 a day, even as Israel moved to swiftly inoculate its elderly and at-risk populations.

Nearly 300,000 Israelis have received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine since last week.

The combined internet and phone survey was conducted by the Midgam Institute on Sunday, with 510 respondents, and a margin of error of 4.4%.

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