Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally continues to poll well with Israelis, but his governing Likud party is in a downward slide, even as the centrist Yesh Atid party of Yair Lapid is gaining significantly in popularity.
Last week, Israel’s largest daily newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, commissioned a survey in which it asked Israelis for whom they’d vote if elections were held today. Netanyahu’s Likud would win 23 seats, down from its current 30, while Yesh Atid would gain nine, giving it 20 seats.
The left-wing Labor Party, currently branded the Zionist Union, would drop from 24 to 16 seats, while the national religious Jewish Home party would increase from eight to 13 seats. The center-right Kulanu faction would lose just one of its current 10 mandates, and Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu would rise from six to eight seats.
The ultra-left Meretz party would also gain slightly, going from five to seven seats, while the Orthodox Jewish parties Shas and United Torah Judaism would drop one seat for a combined 12 seats, and the Joint Arab List would remain steady at 12 seats.
The overall picture does not bode well for Netanyahu’s ability to form the next ruling coalition, and if those numbers hold true, the possibility exists that Lapid could be tapped for that task.
The general feeling in Israel is that while Netanyahu is a brilliant politician who knows how to win elections, he has once again fallen short when it comes to actually governing. Even within Likud, Netanyahu’s popularity is said to be waning, as his list of challengers and critics grows.
At the same time, Lapid appears to be doing everything right. Instead of sitting at home criticizing Netanyahu, with whom he often disagrees, the centrist politician is constantly abroad arguing Israel’s case. Lapid has demonstrated that he appeals to a broad spectrum of Israelis, that he is a true centrist on most issues.
The expected gains by Jewish Home will also come at the expense of Netanyahu’s Likud. Those national religious voters who may have cast their ballots for Likud in order to prevent a Labor-led government will return to Jewish Home because of their dissatisfaction with Netanyahu.
All of the above makes Netanyahu’s already narrow majority coalition (61 out of 120 seats) seem all the more fragile.
In the meantime, Netanyahu is doing all he can to avoid the kind of mistake that could result in early elections, as so often happens in Israel. But even if that happens, most remain confident that Netanyahu will once again pull out the magic and the victory. Because even if a growing chorus is calling for his removal, the simple fact is that a viable alternative to Netanyahu as prime minister has yet to be found.