Benjamin Netanyahu would almost certainly become prime minister for the fourth time if elections were held today, according to the latest Haaretz poll. This despite the decline in public satisfaction with his performance compared to the previous survey, which was taken immediately after Operation Protective Edge last summer.
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It would take a political magic wand to unseat Netanyahu as prime minister, given the number of seats that would go to Likud, and the moderate size of the parties in the “Anybody But Bibi” camp – and on the assumption that Habayit Hayehudi and the ultra-Orthodox parties would eventually recommend that Netanyahu form the next government – for example, if Yisrael Beiteinu bolted from the right and linked up with the center-left.
Such a scenario seems illogical, but to Netanyahu’s mind, nothing is more logical and threatening. He is hearing from various sources that Yisrael Beiteinu’s chairman, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, in private conversations is predicting or committing himself – to the extent it is up to him – that Netanyahu will not be sworn in to the next Knesset, at least not as prime minister.
If the vote is split the way the Haaretz survey (undertaken last week by Dialog, headed by Prof. Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University) predicts, Lieberman could decide who becomes the next prime minister. Ostensibly, Lieberman is deeply rooted in the right. But recently he has moved toward the center. Perhaps he has concluded that Habayit Hayehudi head Naftali Bennett is the new king of the right, and the blanket there is too short to cover them both.
The “peace plan” Lieberman published Friday in Yedioth Ahronoth brings him closer, at least image-wise, to the center. To what extent he is willing to cross the Rubicon to the point of denying Netanyahu the premiership and crowning one of the members of the other camp, perhaps in rotation – only he knows.
Another reservation about this survey, and other recent polls, is that it is hard to assess whether these will be the parties that run in the next election. Hatnuah, headed by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, will probably blend somehow with Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid into one roster. Another scenario: Likud, Habayit Hayehudi and Yisrael Beiteinu will run on one roster, as some people are saying.
On the center-left, potential partnerships are even harder to gauge. As long as Lapid fails to realize that he does not have the skills to be prime minister and cannot stand for election as such, and thus announces his support (together with Livni) for the experienced MK Isaac Herzog (Labor), this camp will not be able to give a good fight to their power-hungry opponents across the political divide.
A few more points about the survey:
* As in the previous cluster of surveys held recently, Shas is no longer the largest ultra-Orthodox party. The poll gives that title to its Ashkenazi sister, United Torah Judaism. This is because the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox political world has not yet gotten over the loss of its spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Also, the reconciliation between Shas leaders Aryeh Deri and Eli Yishai has not borne the hoped-for fruit.
* The comeback boy of Israeli politics, Moshe Kahlon, is performing strongly in the survey, winning 12 seats (or, in the worst-case survey, seven). A member in good standing of the “Anybody But Bibi” camp, if Netanyahu forms the government – with the help of the ultra-Orthodox and the right – Kahlon will probably join, because there’s nothing for him in the opposition. But with a potential scale-tipper like Kahlon, Netanyahu will do some sweating.
* Satisfaction with Lapid is at a nadir; he’s on the ropes, with no way back. But Yesh Atid still has double-digit representation in the Knesset, albeit less than in the current Knesset.
* The poll shows President Reuven Rivlin enjoying broad public support after four months in office – 61 percent. This is obviously not only from the center-left, but also from the center-right. His strong position against the nation-state bill, his action in the case of singer Amir Benayoun, and the waves his visit to Kafr Qasem made, have made him the darling of the leftists.