FINAL POLL: Likud gaining some ground, but still no definitive pathway for Netanyahu to remain prime minister
Support for all major challengers — Lapid, Bennett and especially Sa’ar — appears to be slipping in final days. Are big surprises in store on Tuesday?
JERUSALEM — Netanyahu is up.
His rivals are down.
But as of right now, there is still no clear and definitive path for Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu to remain prime minister.
Nor is there a clear and obvious challenger on track to become premier in his stead.
With just four days of intense campaigning left before Israelis vote on Tuesday, the final public polls are being released, and the results are a mixed bag both for the “pro-Netanyahu” camp and the “anti-Netanyahu” camp.
By law, Israeli media outlets are not permitted to publish or broadcast new poll numbers after today.
So let’s take a close look at the final poll commissioned by The Jerusalem Post and its Hebrew-language sister newspaper, Maariv.
The Pro-Netanyahu Camp
Likud — Netanyahu’s party — is projected to win 30 seats. This is up from 27 seats in the last Post poll, but down from the 36 seats Likud currently holds in the Knesset.
Shas — an ultra-Orthodox party — is expected to win 8 seats. Shas leaders have pledged to support only Netanyahu for prime minister.
United Torah Judaism — another ultra-Orthodox party — is on track to win 6 seats.
The Religious Zionism party — an Orthodox, nationalist faction, widely criticized for having extremist and racist views — is on track to win 5 seats.
Bibi does seem to have some momentum and is closing strong.
Indeed, it is possible that Likud gains another few seats over the weekend.
But at the moment, the pro-Netanyahu camp is projected to win only 49 seats.
Former Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and his Yamina (Rightward) party are projected to win 10 seats — down from 11 in the last Post poll.
For weeks, Bennett has been calling the nation to “fire” Netanyahu as a “failed CEO.”
But even if Bibi can persuade Bennett to give him another chance, that would only give Bibi 59 seats — two shy of the 61-seat majority needed to control the 120-seat Knesset.
The Anti-Netanyahu Camp
Now let’s look at Bibi’s competition.
Yair Lapid and his centrist Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party are on track to win 19 seats, down from 20 in the last Post poll.
Gideon Sa’ar and his center-right New Hope party are running a poor campaign and continue to lose ground. Three months ago they were on track to win between 15 to 17 seats. The last Post poll put them at 10 seats. This final poll puts them at just 8 seats, raising the question of whether the slippage will continue in the coming days.
Avigdor Liberman and his center-right and secular party — Yisrael Beytenu — are projected to win 8 seats.
The left-wing Labor party was nearly extinct a few months ago but is now on track to win 5 seats.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue & White party has been battling possible extinction as well, but may be able to win 5 seats.
The far-left-wing party Meretz is struggling to stay alive as well, but may be able to eke out 4 seats (under Israeli election law, a party must win enough votes to earn a minimum of four seats or it fails to cross the electoral threshold and cannot enter the Knesset at all).
Remarkably this gives the “anti-Netanyahu” camp 49 seats from classically Jewish/Zionist parties.
Thus, even if this camp could unify — with all of their ideological differences — and even if Naftali Bennett and his Yamina party with 10 seats were to side with this camp they would still only have a total of 59 seats.
Thus, they too would be two seats short of a governing majority.
And there is another challenge for this camp.
Let’s say the final vote tally allows them to pick up a few more seats, who would lead this camp — Lapid, Bennett or Sa’ar?
The outliers in all this are the Arab parties.
The Joint List — a group of disparate non-Zionist parties — are on track to win 8 seats.
The party of Mansour Abbas — Ra’am, an Islamist faction affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood — is teetering on the threshold but could win 4 seats.
Netanyahu has been flirting with Abbas, hoping to woo him into joining the pro-Bibi camp.
For his part, Abbas has at times shown interest in helping Netanyahu, but has not ruled out helping Lapid and the “anti” camp, if he and his party were promised good cabinet positions and more economic help for Arab Israeli communities.
Historically, the Jewish Zionist parties have refused to work with non-Zionist Arab parties. Will that change after Tuesday? That remains to be seen.
The Bottom Line
To be sure, political polls are woefully unreliable.
But they are all we have to go on right now.
If this one is even close to the mark, Netanyahu and Likud appear to have some momentum in the home stretch.
But it’s not clear it will be enough to get to 61 seats or more.
There are signs that the Jewish anti-Bibi parties are sputtering and losing some ground in the final days.
Could the X factor be the Arab parties?
For weeks, the Israeli media has been saying that Naftali Bennett will be the “Kingmaker.”
Maybe yes, but maybe no.
What if Mansour Abbas — if he can squeak through and win four seats — decides who will be the next prime minister?
Does he send Bibi into retirement?
Or help Bibi stay on indefinitely?
Or stay out of the whole thing?
Lots of question remain, but time is running out.
(“The poll of 1,001 respondents representing a statistical sample of the adult Israeli population, was taken Thursday and had a margin of error of 3.2%,” the Jerusalem Post reported on Friday.)
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.