TV surveys give Zionist Union 13-17 seats, from its current 24

Zionist Union drops in polls amid coalition talks with Likud

Netanyahu and Herzog met at length Sunday on a unity government, but major gaps remain; 60% of Zionist Union voters oppose idea

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Isaac Herzog leads a Zionist Union faction meeting in the Knesset on February 22, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Isaac Herzog leads a Zionist Union faction meeting in the Knesset on February 22, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog reportedly met for several hours Sunday night to discuss bringing the Zionist Union into the government, but there was no progress in the closed-door talks.

The two disagreed over the controversial natural gas deal, a proposal that would force NGOs to declare their foreign funding, and a bill allowing the Knesset to suspend lawmakers, according to a Channel 2 report Monday.

Both sides say that there were major differences and that significant gaps remain, the report said.

Meanwhile, several polls Monday showed public support for the Zionist Union plummeting.

Rumors have swirled in recent weeks of talks between Netanyahu and Herzog aimed at creating a unity government. Herzog has so far rejected Netanyahu’s reported overtures, but has left the door open for joining the government, angering some in his party.

Last week, Netanyahu confirmed that Likud and Zionist Union had been in advanced stages of talks on a new unity government, but those discussions ended after it emerged last month that Herzog was under investigation for campaign finance issues.

Herzog’s hold on the leadership of the Zionist Union was dealt a blow when police announced the probe.

Netanyahu’s government currently has the slimmest possible Knesset majority of just 61 to 59 MKs. The Zionist Union has 24 MKs, of whom 19 are members of Herzog’s Labor and five of Hatnua, led by Tzipi Livni.

On Sunday, Channel 10 released a recording of Herzog — made during a recent meeting with a fellow party member — defending the coalition negotiations and asserting he saw a rare opportunity for peace with the Palestinians. One of the proposals apparently said to have been offered by Netanyahu includes an agreement to scale back settlement construction in the West Bank.

Polls conducted by Channel 2 and Channel 10 found that the public is split evenly over the potential unity government. Fifty percent were against it in the Channel 10 poll and 52% opposed the move in the Channel 2 survey, both published Monday. Of Zionist Union voters, only 36% favor entering the coalition, while 60% oppose it, the Channel 2 survey also found.

On who the public would vote for if elections were held today, both polls showed a severe drop for the Zionist Union, with Channel 2 predicting it would fall from its current 24 Knesset seats to 17 and Channel 10 giving it just 13 seats. Likud would go from 30 to 27, according to Channel 2, and as low as 25, according to Channel 10.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, whose Kulanu party was predicted by both polls to drop seats if elections were held today, said Monday that Netanyahu had confirmed to him he was trying to enlarge the coalition.

“I met with the prime minister and heard from him that the efforts to expand the coalition are ongoing. This is the right time, and there is no better time for a broad unity government,” Kahlon said in a statement.

According to Channel 2’s poll, parties would receive the following if elections were held today: Likud 27, Yesh Atid 18, Zionist Union 17, Joint (Arab) List 13, Jewish Home 10, Yisrael Beytenu nine, Kulanu seven, UTJ seven, Shas six and Meretz six.

The Channel 10 gave Likud 25, Yesh Atid 20, Zionist Union 13, Joint List 14, Jewish Home 12, Yisrael Beytenu nine, Kulanu nine, Shas six, UTJ six, and Meretz six.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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