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Israelis have shifted rightward after the war in Lebanon and right-wing parties would dramatically increase their power at the expense of Kadima and Labor if elections were held now, according to public opinion polls taken this week.
A Ma'agar Mohot poll, broadcast on Channel 2 on Thursday evening found that if the election was held today, the Likud and Israel Beiteinu would each win 24 seats, Kadima would fall from 29 to 14, and Labor would fall from 19 to only 9.
According to a different Ma'agar Mohot poll taken few days ago for the newspaper Israeli, Labor would become the sixth largest party after the next election. Kadima would win 23 seats, Likud 20, Israel Beiteinu 15, Shas 13, the National Union-National Religious Party 12 and Labor only 12.
A Smith Research poll broadcast on Channel 2 found that over 50 percent of Israelis were undecided. The poll predicted 16 seats for Israel Beiteinu, 14 for Likud, 11 for Kadima and just 10 for Labor. The Smith poll found that the Likud could win 20 seats if its candidate for prime minister was former IDF chief of General Staff Moshe Ya'alon, who returned to Israel from a fellowship in Washington on Thursday, and not Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu.
In a Shvakim Panorama poll broadcast on Israel Radio on Thursday, 29% of Israelis polled said their preferred defense minister would be Ya'alon, 17% preferred former defense minister Shaul Mofaz of Kadima, 10% said former prime minister Ehud Barak and less than 5% said current defense minister Amir Peretz.
A Teleseker poll published in Ma'ariv last week showed the Likud rising from 12 seats to 20, adding to the trend predicting a rightward shift among Israelis.
Meanwhile, in an effort to resolve their differences and avoid advancing the next election, Peretz and Labor's representatives on the Knesset Finance Committee will meet with Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson (Kadima) over the weekend.
A vote in the Knesset Finance Committee on approving NIS 2 billion in budget cuts needed to finance the war in Lebanon was supposed to take place on Thursday, but was delayed until Monday so that dissenting Labor MKs could meet with the finance minister.
MKs Avishay Braverman, Shelly Yacimovich and Orit Noked agreed that they would join Labor Chairman Amir Peretz and Hirchson in a meeting to discuss their objections to the budget cuts.
The three MKs, whose votes are necessary to pass the budget cuts through the committee, said that they expect Hirchson to explain his economic plans and accept input from their three MKs on how to avoid cutting back on socioeconomic programs.
"In the past I voted against my conscious and now I won't do that anymore. No one is going to teach me about economics," said MK Avishay Braverman, who received a PhD in economics from Stanford University and worked at the World Bank for 14 years in a number of departments.
"With the figures I have seen from the Finance Ministry, I just don't think these cuts are necessary."
According to Braverman, there is at least a NIS 13 million surplus which the Finance Ministry could use to fund rehabilitation programs in the North. The MK argues that the current budget cuts would harm blue-collar workers more than any other sector in Israeli society.
"The very people in the North, the working poor who didn't leave their homes but stayed and suffered, would be harmed by these cuts that claim to rehabilitate the North," said Braverman.
He added that while only he, Yachimovich and Noked opposed the vote in the Finance Committee, during Wednesday night's Labor meeting all of the Labor MKs, save Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog, voiced support for Braverman's arguments against the budget.
"All but one of the Mks supported my opposition to the cuts when they heard my explanation," said Braverman. "I think we have realized that the Labor Party has gone in a direction very different from our election promise."
Earlier this week, Braverman announced that he and Mk Ami Ayalon were spearheading a movement to challenge Chairman Amir Peretz for the party leadership. The two promised to fulfill the "true socioeconomic agenda" of the Labor Party.
One MK, a minister loyal to Peretz, slammed Braverman's opposition as "political strategy." "He may be new to politics but he has learned all the political maneuvers," said the minister. The current Knesset is Braverman's first term as MK.
MKs Noked and Yachimovich were less specific about their objections to the budget cuts, but stressed that they felt that they would need examine the cuts with the finance minister before they could approve them.
"We ran on a socioeconomic agenda and we will have to account to our voters when we don't come through on it," said Noked. "We can not enter into this lightly."