Single poll out of 3 shows Otzma Yehudit clearing threshold; deadlock continues

Network surveys see Blue and White edging ahead of Likud, but neither camp able to muster 61 seats without Avigdor Liberman, even if extremist party somehow makes it into Knesset

Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit party presents his party list to the Central Elections committee at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 15, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit party presents his party list to the Central Elections committee at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 15, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Polls published by three Israeli networks Thursday showed right-wing parties backing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and their center-left rivals more or less even, with neither bloc projected to win a majority in upcoming elections. One of the polls, however, showed the extremist Otzma Yehudit clearing the Knesset threshold and winning four seats.

The snap TV polls, which have a patchy accuracy record, were the first since party slates closed Wednesday night amid a flurry of activity that saw the reconstitution of the national religious Yamina alliance and the extreme right-wing Otzma Yehudit slate isolated.

All three polls predicted Blue and White edging out Netanyahu’s Likud party, but saw Israel’s political deadlock continuing and Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu remaining the difference maker, following the two national votes in 2019 that saw largely the same results.

National votes in September and April failed to produce a governing coalition of at least 61 MKs in the 120-seat Knesset, with Yisrael Beytenu refusing to join either side.

All three polls showed the Likud-led right-religious bloc garnering 55-57 votes, while a potential center-left-Arab coalition led by Blue and White got between 55 and 58 seats.

New Right chairman Naftali Bennett arrives to present his party list at the Knesset on January 15, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

One of the three surveys, published by Channel 13 news, saw Otzma Yehudit passing the electoral threshold. However, even in that case, the right-wing bloc failed to clear 61 seats without Liberman.

Otzma Yehudit has come under heavy pressure from Likud to drop out of the race in the hopes that potential voters will instead switch their votes and boost Yamina or Likud. In September’s election, the party garnered some 80,000 votes, which would have equaled two seats had they gone to a party that crossed the 3.25 percent Knesset threshold.

The newly reformed Yamina alliance, comprising the New Right, Jewish Home and National Union, was predicted in the new surveys to win anywhere from seven to 10 seats. The party currently holds seven seats.

Monday’s merger on the left of the Meretz, Labor and Gesher parties also did little to change the electoral math, with the polls showing the alliance winning eight or nine seats.

Currently, the left’s Democratic Camp, which includes Meretz, and Labor-Gesher hold 11 seats combined as two separate slates.

Channel 12’s poll was the most optimistic for the right, giving Blue and White 34, Likud 32, Joint List 13, Yamina 10, Shas 8, Labor-Gesher-Meretz 8, Yisrael Beytenu 8, and United Torah Judaism 7. Otzma Yehudit was not expected to pass the electoral threshold. The right-wing bloc had 57 seats sans Liberman, and the center-left bloc had 55 seats.

It surveyed 505 people on Thursday and had an error margin of 4.4%.

Channel 13’s poll had Otzma Yehudit just managing to enter the Knesset, but was worse for the right-wing as a whole. In it, Blue and White got 34, Likud 31, Joint List 14, Labor-Gesher-Meretz 9, Yisrael Beytenu 8, United Torah Judaism 7, Yamina 7, Shas 6 and Otzma Yehudit 4. The right-wing bloc had 55 seats without Liberman, and the center-left bloc had 57.

The survey was based on responses from 712 people and had an error margin of 3.6%.

Finally Kan reported the best result for the center-left: Blue and White had 36, Likud 31, Joint List 13, Labor-Gesher-Meretz 9, Shas 9, United Torah Judaism 8, Yamina 7 and Yisrael Beytenu 7. The right-wing bloc had 55 seats without Liberman, the center-left bloc had 58.

The survey queried 751 people on Thursday and reported an margin of error of 3.7%.

Kan’s survey found that a plurality of respondents — 42% — thought Blue and White’s Benny Gantz was the most fit to lead the country. Forty-one percent said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should lead.

For Channel 12’s survey, 40% preferred Netanyahu as prime minister, and 38% chose Gantz.

Israel has had a transition government since December 2018, when the Knesset voted to dissolve and go to early elections. A third round of elections will be held March 2, after the previous two failed to result in a government, a first in Israeli history.

Liberman on Thursday claimed the makeup of the next coalition was all but determined, but appeared to be referring to the same unity government proposal he has unsuccessfully pushed for since before the September vote.

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks during a Friday Culture event in Glilot, on December 20, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“I want to form a coalition [composed] of all the Zionist parties, I think that’s obvious to all,” Liberman told the Ynet news site. Asked whether this referred to the unity government he touted following the September election, made up of Likud, Blue and White, and Yisrael Beytenu, the right-wing party leader demurred: “It’s not unity, I’m saying all the Zionist parties. I think it’s pretty much closed and locked in. I don’t want to get into details. But I’m telling you there won’t be fourth elections.”

It was unclear what numbers Liberman was using in his prediction, given that his reference to the “Zionist parties” appeared to exclude Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox allies, whom he has branded “anti-Zionist,” and the predominantly Arab Joint List.

If current projections remain, a government of the remaining parties would seemingly only be possible if Likud and Blue and White somehow overcame their differences, suggesting Liberman’s position on a unity government was unchanged.

Netanyahu heads into the March election under increasing legal pressure. In November, he became the first sitting prime minister with charges against him when Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced he would indict the prime minister for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. Netanyahu denies the charges and claims he is the victim of an attempted “political coup” involving the opposition, media, police and state prosecutors.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the Kohelet Forum Conference at the Begin Heritage Center, in Jerusalem, on January 8, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Netanyahu announced on January 1 that he would seek Knesset immunity from prosecution, submitting the request hours before the legal deadline. But he had anticipated the matter would only be debated in the next Knesset term, after the March elections, by when he would hope to have won a parliamentary majority.

On Monday, members of the Knesset Arrangements Committee voted 16 to 5 in favor of establishing and staffing the key House Committee, the only parliamentary panel able to debate the premier’s immunity request. But a vote on the establishment of the committee must also take place in the Knesset plenary open to all 120 MKs, a majority of whom, crucially including Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party, have already declared that they support establishing the committee.

Once formed, the House Committee is likely to debate and potentially vote on Netanyahu’s immunity request in the coming weeks, perhaps even days, long before election day on March 2. The committee is expected to shoot down Netanyahu’s immunity bid.

Likud has said it will try to delay the process by tying it up in court and with other challenges, hoping to push it past March 2, when a new Knesset will be voted in. Blue and White is hoping that the committee will debate and reject Netanyahu’s request within three weeks, with time to spare before the election.

The prime minister and his supporters have argued that the House Committee should not be formed because the Israeli government is in transition, and also because there is insufficient time before the elections for the committee to properly weigh the immunity requests.

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