If national elections were held today, the ruling Likud party led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could find it very difficult to form a coalition and might even find itself in the opposition along with a number of its current right-wing coalition partners, according to a new poll published on Friday.
The centrist Yesh Atid party, chaired by Yair Lapid, would garner 26 Knesset seats, according to a survey conducted by the Midgam Institute for Channel 2 Friday, allowing the five-year-old political party to form a bloc that has the potential to keep the Likud from power.
The survey on Friday found that the Likud would get 22 seats, down from the 30 it currently holds.
The survey was conducted among a representative sample of 500 Israelis on March 8 and 9, with a ±4.5% margin of error.
In an immediate response to the survey, the Likud stated: “The left will continue to win in the surveys of [Channel 2’s pollster] Mina Tzemach, and the Likud, led by Netanyahu, will continue to win at the ballot box.”
Presenting the poll, Channel 2 noted that pollsters had been wrong about the US elections, the UK Brexit vote and Israel’s 2015 elections. Nonetheless, it noted, such surveys are taken seriously by Israel’s politicians, and leadership primaries coming up soon in the Jewish Home and Zionist Union parties, among others, underline the growing sense in Israel that elections might be imminent if Netanyahu’s legal problems — he is being probed over two sets of graft allegations — intensify.
According to the poll results, the Yesh Atid party could form a bloc, starting with its 26 seats, with the center-left Zionist Union party, which would win 11 seats, the left-wing Meretz with 6 seats, the Joint (Arab) List with 13 seats, and the 4 seats a potential new party recently announced by former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon would garner. This would give them 60 seats out of the 120 in the Knesset and, according to Channel 2, could force Netanyahu to form a national unity government with Lapid in this scenario.
Lapid could also partner with Kulanu, in addition to the other parties, to form a coalition. This scenario is unlikely as the Joint List, made up of four Arab-majority parties, has indicated that it could not be part of a government led by a Zionist party.
Religious parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, key Netanyahu coalition partners, also appear unlikely to join a Yesh Atid-led coalition , owing to previous enmity over Lapid’s push to pass laws to include the ultra-Orthodox in Israel’s mandatory military draft and encourage the teaching of math and English in government-funded ultra-Orthodox schools. These laws were rolled back when Netanyahu signed coalition agreements with the two ultra-Orthodox parties in 2015.
Netanyahu’s current coalition is made up of 66 seats: the Likud’s 30, United Torah Judaism’s 6, Kulanu’s 10, Shas’s 7, Jewish Home’s 8 and Yisrael Beytenu’s 5.
The poll also showed a rise in some of the small parties and a drop in others. According to the survey, if elections were held today, the Jewish Home party would win 11 seats, Yisrael Beytenu 7, UTJ 7, Kulanu 7 and Shas 6.
The Zionist Union party, led by Isaac Herzog, would see a huge decrease from the 24 seats it won in 2015 to 11 if elections were held today, as per the poll.
A general election is theoretically more than two years away, tentatively slated for 2019, but with Netanyahu under investigation for a raft of scandals, some analysts believe it may come sooner than planned.
Lapid said on Thursday that if he were tasked with forming a coalition he would reach out to both left- and right-wing parties in an effort to form a unity government.
“I will try to form a national unity government with the Likud and Labor parties if I win the elections,” he told Army Radio.
In recent months, Yesh Atid has been rising in opinion polls, consistently coming out ahead of Netanyahu’s governing Likud, but Friday’s poll marked the first by this pollster that showed it able to threaten Netanyahu’s capacity to build the next majority coalition.
While the party has targeted voters on both sides of the political spectrum, Yesh Atid’s surge had been seen to come largely at the expense of the left-leaning Zionist Union. But Friday’s survey also showed it drawing support from the right, the TV report said.
With Likud lawmakers beginning to talk about the political landscape “post-Netanyahu” and Labor gearing up for a bitter leadership battle, on Tuesday Lapid announced that seven regional council heads from across the country were joining his party.
Formed by Lapid in 2012, Yesh Atid stormed to a surprising 19-seat success in the 2013 elections, becoming the second-largest party and joining Likud in the coalition. In the 2015 elections the party slid to the 11 seats it currently holds in the Knesset, where it sits in the opposition.
Despite his party’s initial focus on domestic concerns, Lapid has used his time as a lawmaker to fashion himself as something of a shadow foreign minister, with the role of top diplomat currently held by Netanyahu himself.