Israel’s Netanyahu Neck and Neck with Opposition Left

Left-wing opposition parties poll neck and neck with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservatives.

German chancellor Angela Merkel meet with Israeli Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog, February 26, 2014
German chancellor Angela Merkel meet with Israeli Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog, February 26, 2014 (Bundesregierung)

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party is polling neck and neck with left-wing parties. According to an Israel Radio survey, both would win 23 seats in the Knesset.

A Maariv poll even puts Labor and former justice minister Tzipi Livni’s centrist party one seat ahead.

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

Government collapse

Netanyahu 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.

Right-wing majority

Despite possible gains for Labor and Livni’s party — they have 23 seats 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 parties on the right.

The Israel Radio poll gives Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu, which draws most of its support from Jews from the former Soviet Union, eight seats and 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.

Close personal race

The Israel Radio survey does reveal 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 polled said economic and social issues are more important in this election than defense and security, themes on which the hardliner Netanyahu tends to be trusted more.

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