Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the US Congress did not help his Likud party cut the Zionist Union’s two-seat lead, according to a Panels Research poll taken on Wednesday and Thursday for The Jerusalem Post and its Hebrew sister publication Maariv Sof Hashavua.
If the March 17 election were held now, the Zionist Union would beat the Likud, 24 Knesset seats to 22, the poll found. In last week’s survey, the Zionist Union received 25 seats and Likud 23.
The numbers for the Zionist Union and the Likud fluctuated both before and after Tuesday’s speech. A Panels Research poll taken for the Knesset Channel on Monday predicted 24 seats for the Zionist Union and 21 for the Likud. A poll Panels took immediately after the speech on Tuesday night and Wednesday gave the Zionist Union 23 seats and the Likud 22, while the Zionist Union gained a seat in the poll conducted on Wednesday and Thursday.
Likud officials said that while they expected the speech in Congress to have a more lasting effect, they were not disappointed with the survey results because, from their point of view, the numbers indicate that only Netanyahu can form a government.
The poll predicted 56 seats for parties on the Right: The Likud’s 22; Bayit Yehudi’s 12; seven for Shas; six for United Torah Judaism; five for Yisrael Beytenu; and four for Yahad.
It gave 56 seats to parties on the Left: Zionist Union’s 24; Yesh Atid and the Joint (Arab) List with 13 each; and Meretz six. The survey of 650 respondents representing a statistical sample of the Israeli population has a margin of error of +/-3.9 percentage points.
In such a scenario, Moshe Kahlon would hold the balance of power with his eight seats for Kulanu that could go either way. But Likud officials noted that the Joint List has said it would not join any coalition; the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties refuse to enter a coalition with Yesh Atid; and Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman has vigorously ruled out a coalition with Meretz.
A close Netanyahu confidant told the Post that despite Netanyahu’s repeated statements ruling out a unity government with the Zionist Union, “Bibi would be happy to form a unity government, as long as he can bring in the parties on the Right first with coalition guidelines the Right could accept.”
Likud officials have spoken more openly recently about the possibility of the Zionist Union joining a Likud-led government, but they have ruled out a rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office between Netanyahu and Zionist Union leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni.
“We haven’t said no to anything, but it is clear that first we need to create a natural bloc, a natural coalition that is Right and, after, if someone wants to join, they can,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told Army Radio on Thursday morning.
Negev and Galilee Development Minister Silvan Shalom told Israel Radio on Wednesday that he hoped the Zionist Union would join a Likud-led government. Likud faction chairman Ze’ev Elkin called the chances of a unity government “50-50.”
Shas chairman Arye Deri said on Thursday he would prefer a unity government. Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett has said in closed conversations that he could coexist in a government with Herzog, but he criticized such a possibility Thursday on Facebook.
“The mask has been removed,” Bennett wrote in response to Ya’alon. “The Likud wants to form a government with Buji [Herzog] and Tzipi without Bayit Yehudi like it tried last time. Last time, the Likud brought in Tzipi (with just six mandates!) and tried with full force to leave us out. Only a big Bayit Yehudi will force the Likud to form a government without the Left.”
The Likud responded by releasing a statement on Facebook attacking some of the more extreme quotes attributed to Zionist Union candidates and ruling out a national unity government that would include them.
“There won’t be a national unity government,” the Likud statement said. “Netanyahu will turn to his natural partners – first and foremost Bayit Yehudi – to form a nationalist government. But, for that, the Likud must be large. Only a large Likud can prevent a leftwing government’s formation.”
When the Post poll asked respondents whether they support the formation of a unity government of the Likud and the Zionist Union, 54 percent said no, 28% yes, and 18% had no opinion.
The proportion saying they want Netanyahu to remain prime minister rose from 42% last week to 46%. The proportion saying they do not want him as prime minister fell from 50% to 44%. It was only the second time in the last two months that a majority said they wanted Netanyahu to remain prime minister.
Meanwhile, Zionist Union strategist Reuven Adler told Channel 10 his party had no intention of canceling the deal reached between Herzog and Livni on a rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office if the party forms the next government.