No doubt Israel’s “government of change” headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid would rate its first four months at the helm of the Jewish state as successful.
- Nearly half of the eligible population has received a COVID booster shot;
- The fourth wave of coronavirus infections is now on the wane;
- Relations with Washington are on the mend;
- The Abraham Accords continue apace; and
- We should soon get our first official state budget in years.
On paper, you’d think that was enough to tilt the polls more in favor of the governing coalition and a prime minister who commands a mere 7 out of the Knesset’s 120 seats.
But the first major public opinion poll since the formation of the current government revealed not only that we’d get similar results if elections were held today, and that most Israelis still prefer Benjamin Netanyahu over Bennett as prime minister.
Conducted by Direct Polls six months after the last election (but only four months since the new government officially took power), the survey showed Netanyahu’s Likud winning a commanding 35 seats if Knesset elections were held today. Lapid’s Yesh Atid would remain the second largest faction with 19 seats, and Bennett’s Yamina would fall to just four seats, barely passing the electoral threshold.
Failing to pass the electoral threshold would be Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party. That’s significant given that Sa’ar just introduced legislation that would bar Netanyahu from forming the next government so long as he’s under indictment.
Netanyahu on Wednesday enthusiastically pointed out the absurdity of a politician whom the voters intend to vote out of the Knesset trying to keep him, leader of the most popular party, from becoming prime minister.
What’s more, the survey showed that in the role of prime minister itself, the wider public has not necessarily warmed to Bennett. Interestingly enough, Netanyahu is now preferred as prime minister by even more Israelis (51% according to the poll) than he was prior to the last election. Just 12% of respondents want to see Bennett remain in the post.
It was always going to be a difficult uphill battle for Bennett. For many, if not most right-wing voters, he’s now seen as a traitor for joining a unity government with far-left and Islamist parties. And as a conservative, religious Jew who believes in Israel’s divine right to the entirety of the Promised Land, he was never going to appeal to the constituents of his more left-leaning and progressive coalition partners. See: What is Religious Zionism, the Faith of Israel’s New Prime Minister?
And the survey results accordingly reveal Bennett losing seats in the next election, even if his premiership can so far be labeled a success (and that remains a big “if” for many Israelis).
But, and this is an even bigger “but” than that aforementioned “if,” the Direct Polls survey shows, as mentioned above, that the overall results of new elections would be very similar to the current make-up of the Knesset.
Yes, Netanyahu’s Likud would have a few more seats, and Bennett’s Yamina a few less. But the number of seats controlled by Likud and other parties willing to sit in a Netanyahu government would be 58, still just short of a majority:
- Likud – 35
- Shas – 9
- Religious Zionism – 7
- United Torah Judaism – 7
That means Netanyahu would still be unable to form a majority government unless he could somehow convince one of the other right-wing parties to join him. With New Hope failing to pass the electoral threshold, that would have to be either Bennett’s Yamina or Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu. And both have vowed to never again sit under Netanyahu, though such promises have been broken before.
At the same time, the parties that make up the current unity government would win just 54 seats, falling even further short of a majority than Netanyahu. It was a herculean effort to get them all to sit together in the first place, and there are indications the coalition might not survive a full term.
- Yesh Atid – 19
- Labor – 8
- Blue and White – 8
- Yisrael Beiteinu – 6
- Ra’am – 5
- Yamina – 4
- Meretz – 4
With New Hope out and Yamina losing three seats, Bennett and Lapid would be entirely unable to form the same government again.
The remaining 8 seats belong to the Joint Arab List, a faction that refuses to sit in any “Zionist” (read: Jewish-majority) government.
So, while the poll shows very similar results to the last election, the pendulum has swung somewhat, and that in the direction of Netanyahu and the religious Right.