Poll: Support for Netanyahu in Likud Lessens

Benjamin Netanyahu is in trouble. The media is against him, his press conference was showered with contempt and scorn, his insistence on advancing the Likud primaries is inexplicable and his strategic adviser has quit.

Now it transpires that even in the supportive circle of the Likud's registered members, all is not well. A survey conducted for Haaretz by Dialogue, supervised by Professor Chamil Fuchs, indicates that Netanyahu has lost some 11 percent of his support in the past 11 days.

Netanyahu is still leading - with 44 percent to Sharon's 38 percent - but the trend is worrisome, as far as he's concerned.

Less than two weeks ago, he led with a majority of 47 percent to Sharon's 30.5 percent. An extra figure that should worry him is that most of the members who seemed to be ready to do anything to oust Sharon a week or two ago now object to Netanyahu's demand to advance the primaries.

According to the poll conducted yesterday and Sunday, 52 percent support Sharon's position that the primaries should be held as scheduled, around April 2006. Only 42 percent want primaries immediately - this November.

The party members realize that advancing the primaries means shortening the Likud's days in power and galloping into an election campaign, the outcome of which is unknown. Unlike Netanyahu, they are not in a hurry.

Sharon's condition among the party members is still difficult, and even if the polls show a draw between him and Netanyahu, or even a slight advantage to Sharon, Netanyahu will still be considered the leading candidate. This is mainly a result of the desire for revenge among the right wingers, who will work for Netanyahu as they worked against Sharon in May 2004.

At this preliminary stage of the campaign for the Likud leadership, one may hazard to say that Netanyahu's great mistake is his uncompromising demand, at present, to advance the primaries. This position is causing unrest and foment in the Likud. The activists cannot understand Netanyahu's hurry, and he cannot convince them. For the mayors, functionaries and party branch heads, the Likud remaining in power is like a life. The ministers are afraid of losing their portfolios and the Knesset members, including Netanyahu's own supporters, are afraid of being left outside the next Knesset.

Perhaps Netanyahu isn't even convincing himself anymore. Likud sources say Netanyahu is seriously considering accepting the compromise proposed by ministers Silvan Shalom, Tzachi Hanegbi and Limor Livnat, to hold the primaries next February. Until now he has vehemently rejected this proposal.

Netanyahu appears too eager, too keen to enter the fight. That was the message conveyed by his press conference. That is the message conveyed by each speech and interview he gives. The halo that hovered over his head when he was finance minister has tarnished. Although he confessed that he had changed, learned from his mistakes and corrected his ways, the prevailing feeling in the public is different. The big question is, what do the Likud Central Committee members think, for it is they who will be asked to decide on the date of the primaries on September 26.

The latest polls show a large majority supporting Netanyahu's position, but Knesset members and ministers who skip nightly from one central committee member banquet to another report that the trend is changing, that there is an undercurrent in the opposite direction to Netanyahu's.

The Haaretz-Dialogue survey was held among a representative sample of 500, and also examined the breakdown of votes in a face-off among Sharon, Netanyahu, Uzi Landau and Moshe Feiglin.

Previous polls did not check Feiglin's position and now it transpires that all 8 percent who support him have "spilled over" from Landau's reservoir.