Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu apparently suffered the impact of criticism attributed to US President Barack Obama Wednesday when a Channel 10 poll found that his Likud-Beytenu list had fallen by three seats in one week.
The Dialog poll found that Likud Beytenu fell from 35 seats to 32, 10 seats fewer than the parties combined have in the current Knesset.
Two of the seats were gained by The Tzipi Livni Party, which rose from seven seats to nine, and this was the first time the Left bloc gained at the expense of the Right since the election campaign began.
The poll predicted 16 seats for Labor, 14 for Bayit Yehudi, 11 each for Shas and Yesh Atid, six each for United Torah Judaism and Meretz, four each for Hadash and Balad, three for the United Arab List, and two each for Kadima and Strong Israel.
It was the first poll that was partially taken after US columnist Jeffrey Goldberg published statements from Obama warning that Netanyahu was leading Israel to isolation.
Netanyahu defended himself on a tour of the South on Wednesday, saying he had withstood pressure from Washington and he would continue to stand firm on Israel’s vital interests.
The Likud accused Goldberg of conspiring with Livni to harm Netanyahu.
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, who heads the Likud’s response team, cited Goldberg’s August 2011 interview with Livni in which she praised Obama for pressuring Netanyahu and suggested that the US should keep up the heat.
Asked by Goldberg in the interview whether US pressure on Netanyahu had been constructive, Livni said: “When Obama pushed Bibi, Bibi made some steps forward.
The American pressure led those who don’t believe that time is of the essence to a better understanding that there is no status quo option.
For Israelis, when they wake up in the morning and ask themselves, what is the general situation today, the litmus test for them is the health of the relationship between Israel and the United States.”
The Livni Party responded to the conspiracy charge by calling upon Likud Beytenu to work to get the US and Obama to help Israel “rather than do everything possible to distance them.”
Goldberg responded to the accusation on Twitter, saying “They think Livni actually asked me to write that column? That’s ridiculous.”
Likud sources said on Wednesday that it was very unlikely that Netanyahu would give Livni’s party a serious offer to join the coalition if he wins Tuesday’s election, due to the animosity between the two. They said he preferred a coalition with Yesh Atid and Kadima on the Left, and religious parties on the Right.
The Likud sources said Netanyahu would likely only invite Bayit Yehudi to join the government when his coalition would already have 61 MKs, so he would not have to rely on the party remaining in the coalition following diplomatic concessions.
Bayit Yehudi started a new campaign on Wednesday featuring a picture of Netanyahu and Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett with the slogan “Supporting Netanyahu, voting Bennett.” Bayit Yehudi officials said they hoped the ads would encourage Netanyahu to include Bayit Yehudi in the next coalition.
But a joke by Bennett on Channel 10 that was seen as insulting Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, might have made that possibility less likely. After Bennett, who sparred with Sara when he was her husband’s bureau chief, recalled that he and the prime minister had served in the same army unit, he was asked about Sara.
“Sara and I did a course on terror together,” Bennett said.
Later on, Bennett apologized, saying: “I’m sorry the press takes a joke and makes it a top headline. I have worked together with Netanyahu and we will know how to work well together. I will be a good partner and we will start working on fixing the real problems of the country despite such nonheadlines.”
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