Polls show slow start for solo Sa’ar, dramatic impact for Bennett and Cohen parties

Surveys show New Hope leader may struggle after split from Gantz, but a potential dramatic reshaping of political map if former PM and ex-Mossad chief were to run

MK Gideon Sa'ar arrives for a meeting of the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee at the Knesset on October 9, 2023 (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)
MK Gideon Sa'ar arrives for a meeting of the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee at the Knesset on October 9, 2023 (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

A day after MK Gideon Sa’ar dissolved his alliance with Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party, polls showed that the New Hope leader could struggle in elections, while also demonstrating the dramatic impact on the political map that could be caused if former prime minister Naftali Bennett and ex-Mossad chief Yossi Cohen were to set up new parties.

A Channel 13 survey broadcast Wednesday evening said if elections were held with the current political parties running, Gantz’s National Unity party would win 34 seats, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud would win 17, and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid would take 14. National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s far-right Otzma Yehudit and Aryeh Deri’s Shas would both win nine seats, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu would receive eight seats and United Torah Judaism would take seven.

Sa’ar’s New Hope would take six seats, while Hadash-Ta’al, Ra’am, Meretz and Religious Zionism would each receive four seats. Labor and Balad would not cross the threshold.

The outlet said that this would produce an electoral map with the Gantz-led bloc holding 64 seats, without Sa’ar’s party. The current coalition would have just 46 seats, and Ayman Odeh’s Hadash-Ta’al would hold the remaining four.

Channel 13 also ran a scenario in which Bennett and Cohen head up two new parties.

If that were to happen, National Unity would plummet to 21 seats, Bennett’s party would win 18 seats, Likud would hold just 15, Cohen’s party would receive 11 mandates, and Yesh Atid would fall to 10.

Former prime minister Naftali Bennett at the scene of a terror attack in Ra’anana on January 15, 2024 (Itai Ron /Flash90)

This would mean that the current coalition would hold 41 seats and the current opposition would hold 46, meaning that neither side could form a government without Bennett and/or Cohen.

Meanwhile, a Channel 12 poll on Wednesday evening gave National Unity 33; Likud 18; Yesh Atid 13; Shas 11; Yisrael Beytenu 11; Otzma Yehudit 8; UTJ 7; Hadash-Ta’al 5; Ra’am 5; New Hope 5; and Meretz 4.

This configuration would give the current opposition 66 seats, with the pro-Netanyahu bloc holding 44. Sa’ar’s New Hope would win five seats, as would Hadash-Ta’al.

Channel 12’s poll then asked respondents to answer on the basis of just Bennett making a political comeback. In that scenario, Gantz’s National Unity would win 28 seats, Likud would hold 18, Bennett’s party and Yesh Atid would both win 12 seats and Sa’ar’s New Hope would not make it into the Knesset.

However, the distribution of seats would shift yet again if Bennett and Sa’ar were to form a new party along with Cohen, a one-time confidant of Netanyahu who has been increasingly critical of the premier over the past year.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen during a toast ceremony for the Jewish New Year on October 2, 2017 (Haim Zach/GPO)

If the three were to form a party, National Unity would win 25 seats, the Bennett-Cohen-Sa’ar party and Likud would each take 17, and Yesh Atid would win 12 . Shas would take 11 seats, Yisrael Beytenu would win 10, UTJ and Otzma Yehudit would take seven each, Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am would each win five, and Meretz would hold four.

Religious Zionism, Balad and Labor would all fail to cross the electoral threshold.

That scenario would give the so-called anti-Netanyahu bloc 56 seats; the pro-Netanyahu bloc 42 seats, and the Bennett-Cohen-Sa’ar party 17, with Hadash-Ta’al holding five.

None of the Channel 12 scenarios showed the Religious Zionism party headed by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich clearing the threshold.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich holds a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, March 13, 2024 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Finally, a survey carried out by the Kan public broadcaster on the basis of just the parties in existence today showed a slight weakening for Gantz’s National Unity compared to the outlet’s previous polls, and a slight strengthening for Likud.

The poll gave 30 seats to National Unity, 21 seats to Likud, Yesh Atid would take 14 seats, Yisrael Beytenu would win 11, Shas would take 10 seats, Otzma Yehudit would hold eight and UTJ would have seven. In addition, New Hope, Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am would each hold five seats and Meretz would take four.

Again, Smotrich’s Religious Zionism and Labor — which has not yet chosen a leader — would remain below the threshold with Balad.

The survey was conducted on Wednesday by the Kantar Institute on a sample of 553 men and women aged 18 in an internet poll. The sampling error was 4.2 percent, with 2,856 people questioned.

None of the polls ran the scenario of a combined Labor-Meretz slate, which could potentially win more seats than Meretz’s projected four if the party were to run alone. Labor is set to hold primaries in May.

Sa’ar, a former Likud minister, was pushed out of Likud after challenging Netanyahu for its leadership several years ago. His New Hope party, which has four seats, merged with Gantz’s Blue and White, which has eight, in July 2022.

Benny Gantz, a member of Israels War Cabinet, talks to the media after a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at the US Capitol on March 4, 2024 in Washington. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/AFP)

The National Unity alliance joined Netanyahu’s coalition as an emergency measure at the start of the war.

Before that, the party had refused to sit with Netanyahu, who is on trial in three corruption cases and was accused of trying to undermine Israel’s democracy with his hardline government’s judicial overhaul that has since been suspended.

Calls for an election have also grown amid dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of the war, with repeated polls showing Netanyahu losing his majority in the Knesset if a vote were to be held today. Netanyahu claimed last month that Israel’s enemies want to see elections mid-war because the process would be divisive, and intimated that any politicians seeking to oust his government from without or within were therefore siding with the enemy.

Netanyahu has faced criticism for his refusal to take responsibility for the devastating Hamas attack on October 7, while virtually all other military and civilian leaders who had a hand in events have done so. Many top officials are also expected to resign once the war concludes, while Netanyahu has signaled he has no such intention.

The prime minister has also pushed back against investigating the failures that enabled the Hamas onslaught so long as the war continues.

Sam Sokol contributed to this report.

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