(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
A poll published Tuesday indicating that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's public support is gradually returning to life caused concern in Likud and Labor circles, as well as internal criticism of Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu and Labor chairman Ehud Barak.
The Dahaf Institute poll in Yediot Aharonot found that 35 percent of respondents approved of Olmert's performance as prime minister while 63% disapproved. Olmert's popularity rose from 25% two weeks ago, before September 6's reported Israel Air Force attack on nuclear installations in Syria.
Twenty percent of those surveyed said their opinion of Olmert had improved as a result of the alleged operation, while 70% said their view of the prime minister remained unchanged. Olmert's popularity has risen significantly since a poll six months ago found that only 3 percent of Israelis wanted him reelected as prime minister.
Likud officials said the rise in Olmert's popularity was the result of Netanyahu's failure to present a credible alternative. They said that rather than attack Olmert, Netanyahu has been meeting with him regularly and advising him on Syria and other security issues, thereby extending his term in office.
"The fact that Olmert is rising is because Netanyahu is not rising," a Likud official said. "There is a contest between Olmert and Barak to see who will pass the Likud in the polls first. Once the Likud loses its lead, there could be an upheaval in the party that might even lead to another leadership race."
Likud MK Reuven Rivlin said the party should not be concerned by the poll, because the public was still overwhelmingly against Olmert.
"Opposition to Olmert has moderated a little, but the polls still show that the public wants a different government," Rivlin said.
A source close to Netanyahu declined to respond to the criticism from inside the Likud. He predicted that Olmert's approval ratings would fall after the concessions he had made to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas were revealed.
"One successful military maneuver does not change the overall picture of strategic folly," the source said.
Barak faced criticism from Labor officials who said Olmert was gaining from the security maneuvers that Barak as defense minister had authorized. They said Barak was doing Olmert's dirty work and the prime minister was getting all the credit in the eyes of the public.
"Olmert's popularity will continue to grow and this government will last longer than anyone expected," said Labor MK Yoram Marciano, one of Barak's fiercest critics in the party.
Barak's associates blamed the criticism on Labor MKs who wanted the party to leave the coalition for their own personal reasons.
Kadima MK Yoel Hasson, who is one of the lawmakers closest to Olmert, said the new poll proved that the public was more patient than its leaders.
"Appreciation for the prime minister has increased, because the public sees the accomplishments of their leaders and feels the need for political stability at such a critical time," Hasson said. "There is a prime minister and a defense minister they can rely on, and they want them to continue."
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