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Polls show slight gains for Netanyahu from UAE deal, as coalition crisis lingers

Representatives from Likud meet with Blue and White negotiators to try and resolve budget dispute, with threat of 4th election still looming

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Opinion polls on Sunday gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud a slight bump after Israel’s normalization deal with the United Arab Emirates was announced, as a budget crisis threatened to topple the government and bring the country to a fourth round of elections in under two years.

Last week’s announcement on the establishment of diplomatic ties between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi, brokered by the US, was seen as a major political boost for Netanyahu, who is currently on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust; is facing a growing protest movement; and is leading a fragile, divided coalition contending with near-daily disagreements.

Representatives of Likud and Blue and White were meeting Sunday night to try and solve the budget crisis, which will trigger elections if not resolved within 9 days, according to Hebrew media reports.

The prime minister — who formed a unity government with Blue and White’s Benny Gantz after three rounds of elections failed to yield a clear winner — has been rumored to be seeking another national vote, amid continuous disagreements within the government and to avoid a handover of power next winter, which will see Gantz become prime minister in his stead. Were it not for the coronavirus pandemic, Netanyahu said in a Sunday Army Radio, the coalition might already have collapsed.

The focus of the dispute has been the state budget, which must be passed by August 25 or elections will automatically be called. Gantz has insisted on a budget through 2021, as the coalition deal between the parties stipulates, while Netanyahu is insisting on one that only covers the rest of 2020, citing the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic. Both have agreed to extend the deadline, but it remains unclear whether they will vote to do so, if talks break down.

Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu protest outside the District Court in Jerusalem, during a court hearing of his trial on criminal allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, on July 19, 2020.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Recent polls had shown Netanyahu’s party dropping to the high 20s in Knesset seats, amid widespread dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Channel 13, if elections were held today, Netanyahu’s Likud would get 33 seats in the Knesset, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid-Telem would pick up 20, Naftali Bennett’s Yamina 19, the Joint List 12, Gantz’s Blue and White 10, Yisrael Beytenu and Shas would each win 7 seats, and United Torah Judaism and Meretz, 6 each.

Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc would pick up 65 seats, more than in most recent polls, which would give it a parliamentary majority in the 120-seat Knesset. Likud currently has 36 seats.

A separate opinion poll aired by Channel 12 also showed Netanyahu slightly gaining from the UAE normalization deal if elections are called. The Knesset election survey showed Likud getting 30 seats, the right-wing Yamina winning 18 and the opposition Yesh Atid-Telem picking up 16. The Joint List would get 15, Blue and White 12, United Torah Judaism and Yisrael Beytenu 8 each. Seven seats would go to Shas, and 6 to Meretz.

Netanyahu’s bloc of supporters would secure a narrow majority of 63, while the center-left gets 49, with Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu in the middle, the survey indicated.

Workers from the culture and art industry protest outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem, on August 11, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to the poll, Netanyahu is seen as far more suited to be premier than Gantz (43% to 16%), Opposition Leader Yair Lapid (46% to 22%) and Yamina leader Naftali Bennett (39% to 24%).

Representatives of Netanyahu’s Likud party and Defense Minister Gantz’s Blue and White met Sunday night to try and solve the budget crisis.

In a statement Thursday, Blue and White said it had held “good” talks with Likud on reaching agreements to keep the coalition from collapsing. “There has been progress and [representatives] have agreed to meet in the coming days,” the statement said. Netanyahu also said Thursday that there had been “progress” in talks with Blue and White.

But reports Sunday suggested the political tensions were also affecting the UAE normalization deal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (bottom left) at his office in Jerusalem on a phone call with UAE leader Mohammed Bin Zayed (bottom right) on August 13, 2020. Above: US President Donald Trump. (Channel 12 screenshot)

The Israeli delegation to the United Arab Emirates ahead of the signing of the normalization deal will not depart this week, amid disagreements over its makeup, Hebrew-language media reported on Sunday night.

“There is no date yet for the delegation’s departure,” the Walla news site quoted a senior Israeli official as saying.

The disagreements appear to be over public credit. Netanyahu wants the delegation to be led by the National Security Council, which belongs to the Prime Minister’s Office. Meanwhile, Gantz’s Blue and White party wants the Foreign Ministry to lead it. Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi is from Blue and White.

The cabinet is expected to be briefed on the agreement on Tuesday, Walla reported.

After the initiation of direct phone calls between the countries earlier Sunday, the next normalization steps to be discussed are expected to be flights between the countries and mutual travel.

Netanyahu admitted on Thursday that he kept his senior coalition partners in the Blue and White party — including Foreign Minister Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Gantz — out of the loop regarding the brewing normalization deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, but said he did so at the request of the US.

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