Mixed signals, murky future

If he stepped down, who would replace Netanyahu?

Netanyahu speaks to Congress (photo credit: screenshot)
Netanyahu speaks to Congress
(photo credit: screenshot)
Two-thirds of the public think Benjamin Netanyahu should suspend himself as prime minister if he is indicted, with an acting prime minister replacing him indefinitely.
That doesn’t mean the two-thirds think he should step down now, as some of his opponents have called for. In fact, the responses to the question “Who would you vote for if an election were held today?” indicates that the Likud has only lost a small amount of support in light of the multiple corruption probes the prime minister faces.
Moreover, the members of the public may want Netanyahu to take a break if he’s charged with corruption, but they’re not really sure whom they want instead.
The candidate who is considered the most appropriate to be the next head of government is “I don’t know.”
The fact that there’s a near tie among four post-Netanyahu candidates could point to a clear leadership vacuum, or to a healthy, competitive democratic field, depending on your point of view.
Either way, there’s no clear front-runner for premier, and even though the Likud has maintained its clear lead in a vote for a party – the kind of vote held in a Knesset election – the emphasis on personality in election campaigns could end up hurting the Likud nationally.
Among Likud voters, something very interesting seems to be happening: More of them are looking outward for leadership, rather than within the party. Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett is the most popular premiership candidate among Likud voters, something that supports the longstanding projections that he will eventually either merge his party with the Likud or leave for the Likud in order to chase his prime ministerial ambitions. If that doesn’t happen, then former minister Gideon Sa’ar remains the Likudnik with the best poll numbers.
The person who should be most pleased by this poll is Yair Lapid. Yesh Atid is polling much better than its current numbers in the legislature, and has been for a long time. This survey bucks the common wisdom that Lapid would lose significant support after Avi Gabbay won the Labor leadership primary, as their parties polled only one seat apart. Lapid is also the leading prime ministerial contender, in that he gets 16% no matter whom the Likud option is in the poll.
Looking at the way the projected Knesset seats are divided among the parties, the most important question to ask is always: Who can form a coalition more easily? The answer is the Right. The Likud and its “natural partners,” meaning its current coalition partners, lose three seats and come to a total of 64, but that is still a majority.
A coalition led by Zionist Union would only reach 59 seats, if it includes Yesh Atid, Meretz, Kulanu and Yisrael Beytenu.
This makes the safe assumption that haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties keep their promise not to join a coalition with Yesh Atid, that Bayit Yehudi would not want to sit in a government that is pushing for a two-state solution, and the Joint List is left out, as Arab parties historically have been.
One more thing to note is that The Jerusalem Post’s poll and recent polls in other media show Shas getting weaker. The 2015 election was the first after the Sephardi haredi party’s spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef died. Shas leader Arye Deri milked that for all it is worth, with campaign materials saying Yosef was “watching from the heavens,” and that supporting Shas was the rabbi’s last will and testament. As the years go by, it seems like at least some people feel like it is no longer imperative to vote for Yosef’s party – or maybe that it’s not really his party anymore.