Text size

Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud have had a good three weeks, with no major slips, with brand new faces and with a good press, while Kadima is bleeding and Labor is disintegrating.

The opinion polls are responding in kind: Likud opened a large, decisive lead of six MKs over Kadima. The right-wing bloc, led by Likud, is also firming up in comparison to previous polls, with 64 MKs versus 56 for the center-left. In effect, the right is much stronger than the center left, since its count also includes 11 MKs from the Arab parties: They will not be asked to join the governing coalition and in the current political climate their only use will be as part of a "preventive bloc" in the Knesset.

These numbers are from a Haaretz-Dialog poll of a representative sample of the Israeli public conducted Tuesday under the supervision of Professor Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University's statistics department. The main question is whether the significant improvement in the Likud's showing is temporary, the inevitable result of the parade of new players presented by Netanyahu to the media at the rate of one a week - Benny Begin, Dan Meridor, Assaf Hefet and Moshe Ya'alon - or the start of a genuine trend. Only time will tell.

Just three weeks ago, most of the polls predicted a draw between Kadima and Likud, and a near-draw between the blocs. Now Likud is racing forward and is nearing the results of the 2003 election, when Ariel Sharon, who was very popular at the time, scooped up 38 Knesset seats for his party.

But the achievement (in the opinion polls, for now) of Netanyahu is much greater: He is less popular than Sharon was, more controversial than Sharon was, and today's Likud is the post-2005 split Likud; Sharon's Likud of 2003 was whole then, and Kadima was just a twinkle in Haim Ramon's eye.

Once more it must be noted that we are at the start of the campaign. The gloves are still on, Netanyahu has not yet been worked over by Kadima or by Labor. Things could definitely change. But it's clear that the mood on the Israeli street is plainly in Likud's favor. Labor isn't in the game. It's battling against Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu for the position of fifth-largest party. Potentially, it could lose additional Knesset seats to the new leftist movement coalescing around Meretz to become Israel's sixth-largest party, and that is likely to spell the end of the Labor Party. In Tuesday's poll, Meretz gained two seats over the poll carried out three weeks ago, going from five seats to seven, merely for being talked about and without anything significant happening.

This week, former army chief of staff Lieutenant General (res.) Moshe Ya'alon joined Likud. The poll examined his suitability for the post of defense minister compared to Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Labor) and former defense minister Shaul Mofaz (Kadima). Mofaz and Barak are leading by a nose with just a slight edge to Mofaz and Ya'alon in third place. More could have been expected from Ya'alon: After all, this was his week. The spotlight was on him, Barak is unpopular, and it was also a week of Qassams in Sderot, Ashkelon and the Gaza-border communities. That probably did not help Barak's numbers any.

The full survey will be published in Week's End on Friday.