Israel’s Netanyahu Neck and Neck with Opposition Left

Leftist opposition parties poll neck and neck with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservatives.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, September 11, 2011
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, September 11, 2011 (Getty Images/Tara Todras-Whitehill)

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party is neck and neck with an alliance of leftist parties, an Israel Radio poll showed on Friday. Both would win 23 seats in the Knesset after elections in March.

A Maariv poll released earlier in the day gave the joint ticket between Labor and former justice minister Tzipi Livni’s centrist party a slight lead with 24 seats.

The two parties merged last week in an attempt to oust Netanyahu.

The premier fired Livni as well as Yair Lapid, his finance minister and leader of another centrist party, earlier this month, claiming the two were plotting a legal “putsch” against him.

The collapse of Netanyahu’s third cabinet means Israelis are due to go to the polls only two years after the last election.

Despite possible gains for Labor and Livni’s party in preelection polls — they have 23 seats together now — the election is unlikely to produce a left-wing majority.

If Likud wins a plurality of the seats, Netanyahu would probably be able to form a government with more likeminded political parties on the right.

The Israel Radio poll gave foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu, which draws most of its support from Jews from the former Soviet Union, eight seats and The Jewish Home, another nationalist party that appeals to settlers and urban rightwingers, seventeen. Fringe religious parties could help Netanyahu clear the 61 seats needed to form a government.

The Israel Radio survey revealed surprisingly strong support for Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog. 36 percent of respondents said they favored him to become prime minister against 39 percent for Netanyahu.

The close race between the two men reflects Israelis’ changing priorities. 58 percent of those surveyed said economic and social issues were more important to them in this election than defense and security, themes on which the hardliner Netanyahu tends to be trusted more.