One Day to Election: Polls Forecast a Tie, but Then What? Not Even Lieberman Knows

Surprises can only come from voter turnout ■ Kahol Lavan could have a shot at government with predominantly Arab Joint List - but is still courting 'Jewish majority'

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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From right: Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz, Yisrael Beitenu chairman Avigdor Lieberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
From right: Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz, Yisrael Beitenu chairman Avigdor Lieberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: Amir Cohen/Reuters
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Opinion polls over the past few days predict Monday’s election to end in yet another political tie. The most promising poll for Likud and the right-wing bloc, that of pollster Shlomo Filber, predicts 59 seats for the bloc. According to Filber, the poll shows that all of Likud’s rosiest predictions are about to come true: a tie between the right-wing and Kahol Lavan, a move of one seat from Kahol Lavan to Likud, a migration of soft right-wing voters from Kahol Lavan and Lieberman to Likud, and the fall of far right party Otzma Yehudit to below the electoral threshold. And still – Filber predicts 59 seats for the bloc.

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Channel 13’s pollster Camil Fuchs gives the right-wing bloc 56 seats. In contrast to the September election, when the difference between opinion polls stemmed from disagreement over whether Otzma Yehudit would make it into the Knesset or not, this time, that is not an issue.

All the pollsters predict to differing degrees that the right-wing bloc will emerge stronger in this election than it did in September. The number of undecided respondents to the polls is also lower than in the past.

>> For all the latest polls visit the Haaretz poll center

Surprises this time can only come from voter turnout. Low-income voters, who usually vote for the right, tend to come out less to vote, in Israel as in the rest of the world. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has invested major efforts to mitigate this effect, but turnout is notoriously difficult to predict.

Gantz’s soft-right voters

This is the first time an election is being held in Israel on a Monday. By law, the last opinion polls may be published on the Friday before the election. In past election campaigns, parties gained major momentum on the days when no opinion polls were published. This time, this period is 24 hours shorter, meaning there is less time for changes that occur between the last poll and the actual results.

The election news of the last few days has focused on the recording by a rabbi close to Netanyahu of a Gantz campaign consultant, saying that Gantz would not strike Iran and that he is a danger to Israel. Kahol Lavan responded aggressively, characterizing the leaked recording and its circulation as reminiscent of the “mafia.” People in Netanyahu’s camp believe that Gantz’s statements will hurt him among his soft-right supporters, who tend to subscribe to Netanyahu’s security policies. Kahol Lavan is convinced that the tape strengthens them because the soft right is disgusted with Netanyahu’s style and methods, exemplified by the tape.

The ‘Jewish majority’

In the beginning of his campaign, Gantz set his sights on the “Jewish majority.” That is, that the Kahol Lavan-Labor-Lieberman bloc would outnumber the Likud-Yamina-Shas-United Torah Judaism bloc, which would allow a government to be sworn in with the largely Arab Joint List absent from the Knesset plenum during the vote. But no opinion poll indicates that this will be possible. Channel 13’s poll, published on Friday, gives Gantz a different option: The number of Kahol Lavan, Labor and Joint List MKs predicted by the poll outstrips the entire right-wing bloc.

Likud party election campaign banners, one showing Benny Gantz sitting and Ahmad Tibi, co-leader of the Joint List, Jerusalem, February 20, 2020Credit: AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

Under these circumstances, Gantz can swear in a government with Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman abstaining. Gantz pledged before the election that he would not do this, but if he has such an opportunity after the election, coalition negotiations will look entirely different.

What about Lieberman

So far Lieberman has refused to say who he’ll recommend to form a government after the election. The last time, he said he would recommend only a candidate who committed to establishing a unity government. Meanwhile, Lieberman said that he won’t support any government that he is not part of, that he will not forge an alliance with the Joint List and that he will not be part of a government in which Interior Minister Arye Deri (Shas) and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) are members.

What is Lieberman planning the day after the election? Nobody knows. The polls predict he’ll garner six or seven seats, less than in September but more than in April.

Lieberman speaking to his Yisrael Beiteinu faction in the Knesset, November 20, 2019Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Lieberman could have been the target of an effective campaign to the tune of “a vote for Lieberman is a vote for a fourth election.” If indeed he finishes this round with six or seven seats, it will be an even greater achievement than in September. What will Lieberman do with the achievement? He probably doesn’t even know himself.

The Bennett threat

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett received the defense portfolio only because of the threat that he would join Gantz and vote in the “Jewish majority” government. Sources in Likud say that after the election, the support of Bennett and his Yamina ally Ayelet Shaked for Gantz will not give the Kahol Lavan leader the Jewish majority he needs to form a government. Bennett’s departure from the defense portfolio will follow in a matter of days.

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