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

TEL AVIV — Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a narrow lead over his rivals in Israel’s leadership race, according to the latest polls ahead of Tuesday’s election, but a deadlock for the fifth ballot in three years is a likely outcome.

After the fall of the government in the summer, Israelis must decide between a record third term as prime minister for Mr. Netanyahu or a return to the unique and unstable coalition of left, center, right and Arab parties that defeated him in the election. 2021.

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

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According to the survey of the “Israel Hayyam” news organization, Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party will win 30 seats. His bloc of right-wing and religious allies was projected to win a total of 61 seats, just enough for a majority in Israel’s 120-seat parliament.

It was predicted that Mr. Lapid’s Yesh Atid party would win 25 seats and his anti-Netanyahu bloc would win 59 seats.

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However, another poll conducted by the Israeli newspaper Maariv on Friday showed Mr. Netanyahu and his rivals deadlocked with 60 seats.

Israel’s channels 11, 12 and 13 also showed a 60-60 deadlock between the two camps in polls broadcast on Friday night.

The fragmented coalition of current Prime Minister Yair Lapid is united only against Mr. Netanyahu.


Ahmed Gharabli/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Friday’s polls were broadly in line with other recent polls that showed Mr. Netanyahu and his supporters winning a narrow or slightly reduced majority.

With the camps neck and neck, the election is likely to be decided by which side can best increase its voter turnout. Mr. Netanyahu has the upper hand, political analysts say, because all four parties in his bloc must comfortably win 3.25 percent of the vote, the minimum required to win a seat in parliament. Votes are discarded for parties that receive less than 3.25% of the vote.

According to the Israel Hayom poll, the three parties in the anti-Netanyahu bloc are close to that political danger zone. If none of them enter parliament, Mr. Netanyahu’s bloc will be sure to win the majority.

If Ms. Lapid or Mr. Netanyahu refuse to form a coalition, their government will likely be fragile. Every parliament member would overthrow the government if their demands were not met.

Mr Netanyahu held the country’s top seat from 2009 until last year, when his rivals joined to form a narrow 61-seat coalition. It was the fourth election in two years of political uncertainty that began with Mr. Netanyahu’s impeachment on corruption charges in 2019 and his departure from his fragile ruling coalition.

Mr. Lapid’s coalition is united only against Mr. Netanyahu, who most coalition members believe should not be allowed to rule the country while under sanctions for corruption. Mr. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.

Mr Netanyahu campaigned against the last government, the first Arab party in Israel’s history, saying it included terrorist sympathizers. The coalition fell apart in less than a year as members clashed over policies related to West Bank settlements, the Palestinians and issues of religion and state.

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


menahem kahana / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

Even if 61 MPs oppose Mr. Netanyahu after the election, Mr. Lapid will struggle to form a coalition. He has to rely on the support of the Arab parties, but his allies say that they refuse to sit in the agreement because of the Palestinian nationalist nature of these parties.

Mr. Netanyahu’s bloc is united; he is its undisputed leader and it basically has the same ideology. In a government with a narrow majority, Mr Netanyahu will be sidelined by religious Zionist co-chair Itamar Ben-Gvir, a far-right MP whose party won 15 seats in the Israel Hayom poll and 14 in the Maariv poll. Mr. Ben-Gvir has advocated the use of lethal force against Palestinians who engage in violence during protests and advocated the expulsion of those who seek to undermine Israel’s Jewish character.

In the event of a deadlock, Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister, could be the biggest winner. His National Unity Party, now a mix of centrist and right-wing lawmakers, including some senior defectors from the Likud party, is expected to win 11 or 12 seats, according to polls by Israel Khayyom and Maariv.

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

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