Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu Gains Slight Edge in Final Polls Before Election

TEL AVIV—Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a small lead over his rivals in Israel’s leadership race, the final polls before Tuesday’s election show, but a fifth deadlock in three years is also a likely outcome.

After the collapse of the government in the summer, Israelis must decide between giving Mr. Netanyahu a record third term as prime minister or returning to the unique, unpredictable coalition of left, centrist, right-wing and Arab parties that defeated him. 2021.

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Friday’s polls – the last to be published under Israeli law – gave Mr Netanyahu a slight lead over his main rival, Prime Minister Yair Lapid. No party is expected to win an outright majority, but Mr Netanyahu and Mr Lapid have allies with whom they are expected to form a ruling coalition.

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A poll by the Israel Hayom news organization predicted Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party would win 30 seats. His group of right-wing and religious allies was predicted to win a total of 61 seats, enough for a majority in Israel’s 120-seat parliament.

Mr Lapid’s Yesh Atid party was predicted to win 25 seats in the poll, while his anti-Netanyahu group would get 59 seats.

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However, another poll by the Israeli daily Maariv on Friday showed Mr Netanyahu and his rivals in a precarious position with 60 seats each.

Israel’s Channels 11, 12 and 13 also showed a 60-60 split between the two camps in polls published Friday night.

Current Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s disparate coalition is united only in its opposition to Mr. Netanyahu.


Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Friday’s polls were broadly in line with other recent surveys that showed Mr. Netanyahu and his supporters gaining a slim majority or narrowly narrowing it.

With the camps neck and neck, the election will be decided by which side can increase their vote share. Mr Netanyahu has an advantage, political analysts say, because all four parties in his group are set to easily win 3.25% of the vote – a threshold for having seats in parliament. Parties with less than 3.25% votes are discarded.

According to the Israel Hayom poll, three anti-Netanyahu parties are hovering near that political danger zone. If any of them fail to make it to parliament, Mr. Netanyahu’s group will have a majority.

If either Lapid or Netanyahu withdraw from forming a coalition, their government is likely to collapse. Any legislator has the power to topple the government if his demands are not met.

Mr Netanyahu held the country’s top seat from 2009 until his opponents joined to create a narrow 61-seat coalition last year. It was the fourth election in a two-year period of political uncertainty that began in 2019 with Mr Netanyahu’s indictment on corruption charges and his defection from his tenuous governing coalition.

Mr Lapid’s coalition is united only to oppose Mr Netanyahu, who many coalition members believe should not be allowed to rule the country while he stands trial on corruption charges. Mr. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.

Netanyahu has campaigned against the previous government, which was the first in Israel’s history to include an independent Arab party, saying it included members sympathetic to terrorists. Within a year, the coalition collapsed as members clashed over policies related to West Bank settlements, the Palestinians, and issues of religion and state.

Netanyahu was Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, serving from 2009 to last year.


menahem kahana/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Mr Lapid will still struggle to form a coalition, despite 61 lawmakers opposing Mr Netanyahu after the election. He will need to rely on the support of Arab parties, but his allies say those parties refuse to sit down with the coalition because of their Palestinian nationalist nature.

Mr. Netanyahu’s team is united; He is its undisputed leader and it shares much of the same ideology. In a government with a narrow majority, Mr Netanyahu is flanked by Itamar Ben-Gvir, co-head of Religious Zionism, a far-right lawmaker whose party won 15 seats in the Israel Hayom poll and 14 in the Maariv poll. Mr. Ben-Gvir has called for the use of lethal force against Palestinians who use violence during protests and advocated deporting people who try to undermine Israel’s Jewish character.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz could be the biggest winner if there is a deadlock. His National Unity Party, now a mix of centrist and right-wing lawmakers, including some senior defectors from the Likud party, is set to win 11 or 12 seats, respectively, according to polls in Israel’s Hayom and Mariv.

Mr Gantz has positioned himself as the only candidate who can bridge the gap between Netanyahu and his rivals. In the deadlock, he could accept an offer from Mr Netanyahu to head a rotating government or continue as defense minister in Mr Lapid’s transition government as the country prepares for a sixth round of elections.

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