Netanyahu Win Helps Likud Take Two Seats From Right

The election of Benjamin Netanyahu as Likud chairman has brought the party two extra Knesset seats since last week, raising the number to 14, according to a Haaretz-Channel 10 poll carried out by the Dialog polling company last night.

The poll, supervised by Prof. Camil Fuchs, shows that Netanyahu's Likud is taking votes away from the right-wing National Union party and the Yisrael Beiteinu faction, which have lost a total of four seats since the last poll.

Assuming that Netanyahu doesn't veer toward the center, the trend is expected to continue for the next few weeks, as 50 percent of National Union voters and 42 percent of Yisrael Beiteinu supporters said they would be more likely to vote Likud now that Netanyahu has become chairman.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Kadima party has retrieved the four seats it lost in the wake of the decisions by Shaul Mofaz and Tzachi Hanegbi to ditch the Likud and join Kadima. According to the poll, based on responses by 600 people, Kadima won 39 seats, apparently unfazed by the minor stroke Sharon suffered this week.

The Labor Party, on the other hand, went down from 24 seats to 21. The explanation is simple: After Mofaz and Hanegbi joined Kadima, some of the Labor voters who had transferred their support to Sharon went back to Labor or sat on the fence and awaited further developments. And then Sharon had a stroke - and came out of it like new. The voters who had abandoned Kadima moved back, apparently to express their support for the old man, who was released from the hospital yesterday.

Labor is in a bad position: It has remained in the 20 to 22 seat range for nearly three weeks.

Meretz-Yahad, meanwhile, has recovered slightly, winning five seats in yesterday's poll. Shinui has stayed stable at four seats.

Between Labor and Meretz-Yahad - which, in the best situation, will do no more than retain its current strength - the left-wing bloc has not been doing any better than the 27 seats it currently has in the Knesset.

This is bad news for Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz and the entire left wing. As the days pass, it becomes increasingly clear that Peretz's big mistake was giving up Shimon Peres and, to a lesser extent, Ehud Barak.

If both had stood at his side, Peretz's position would likely be better than it is today.