The commotion caused by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit's grave draft indictment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came and went. The buzz over the center-left union of Benny Gantz's Hosen L'Yisrael and Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid has subsided. Now that the dust has settled, the results are showing: The Lapid-Gantz roster is losing momentum, along with numerous Knesset seats, while the Likud maintains its standing.
Even more significant is the fact that the right-wing, ultra-Orthodox bloc is overtaking its rivals big time, and in this instance its makeup is rather different and surprising.
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Ex-Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party, a former cornerstone of the bloc, is struggling to pass the electoral threshold. Meanwhile, Moshe Feiglin and his far-right Zehut party safely crossed the minimum for the first time. (However, it is important to note that for various reasons Yisrael Beiteinu poses difficulty for pollsters. Its significant presence in local government is likely to help in the April 9 general election.)
A Haaretz poll conducted Thursday by the Dialog Company, overseen by Prof. Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University, indicates that the momentum gained by the fashionable Feiglin means that not only will he manage to pass the threshold, he may be poised to act as the tie breaker between the left and the right when it comes to forming a coalition.
Netanyahu spared no tricks or legal maneuvers to oust Feiglin from the Likud. Now the same man is about to take the political arena by storm, returning in a rare position of power that will make Netanyahu long for the days when Feiglin was just a troublesome member of his own party.
Kahol Lavan showed a dramatic weakening, dropping to 31 seats from the 35-36 projected last week. Gantz and Lapid's strategy to get President Reuven Rivlin to call on them to set up the next government relied on a single principle: overtaking the Likud by at least 5-6 Knesset seats. That strong of a lead would ensure that even if more people recommend Netanyahu for the job, Rivlin would still entrust the task of forming a coalition to Gantz.
This strategy, stemming mostly from the ex-general's and former journalist's wishful thinking, is collapsing. The Knesset seats are disappearing. Some of those seats are returning to the Labor Party.
Kahol Lavan's shrinking size is reminiscent of a former centrist ticket, the now-defunct Kadima party, which garnered 29 and 28 Knesset seats in the 2006 and 2009 elections, respectively.
Without anything to propel the alliance forward or any unexpected developments in the next 30 days, Kahol Lavan may finish the race with similar numbers. That's not how you build a government - it's a recipe for staying in the opposition and waiting for the legal procedure against Netanyahu to run its course.
Another option for Gantz and Lapid is to breach a commitment they made, go back on their word and join a coalition headed by Netanyahu.
Likud voters most certain, Kahol Lavan voters waver
Netanyahu has said a number of times in conversations over the past year that he will strive to form a broad coalition after the next election, for two main reasons: to prevent the fate of his fifth coalition from being in the hands of a single party, and to reduce the extortion potential of the ultra-Orthodox parties.
With numbers like those in the latest polls, he’ll be more prone to political extortion than ever. Creating and maintaining the coalition will be harder than ever, but it’s better to head an extortionist, impossible coalition than to be in the opposition.
As Election Day approaches, the firmness of respondents’ votes becomes increasingly important. The Haaretz survey showed that of the large parties, Likud voters were the most sure, the firmest in their intention to vote for the party – 69 percent of respondents said they were “sure.”
But only 38 percent of respondents who said they would vote for Kahol Lavan said they were sure. This statistic, of which the alliance’s leaders must be aware, is a flashing red light. Voters of center-right Kulanu and left-wing Meretz are even softer, with just 23 and 29 percent, respectively, saying they were sure.
The second choice of Meretz voters, if they don’t vote for that party, is Kahol Lavan, not Labor. But the second choice of Kahol Lavan voters is Labor, followed by Kulanu, led by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon. Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked will have to work hard over the next month to keep voters for their Hayamin Hehadash party from abandoning them for Likud, the second choice of 33 percent of their voters, according to the Haaretz poll.
The prime minister, who is to be indicted for corruption pending a hearing, tried last week to persuade his listeners that the charges against him are a “house of cards that will collapse,” that he’s being framed and the like. Most Israelis aren’t buying it. The 30 percent of respondents who believe him are mainly Likud voters, ultra-Orthodox Jews, settlers and immigrants from the former Soviet Union – groups that historically have little trust in the judicial system.
In his speech at the Likud campaign launch last week, which centered around him of course, Netanyahu called Gantz a “radish,” (tznon in Hebrew and basically meaning “plain vanilla.”) Bibi added that unlike Gantz, he “speaks from the heart.”
In light of the latest poll, Gantz could switch around a few letters, return the favor and call Netanyahu tzini, cynical: 46 percent of respondents said the prime minister is more cynical than Gantz, compared with 21 percent who said the opposite. Regarding their perceived credibility and caring, however, the two front-runners were in a statistical tie.
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