Likud and Labour going head-to-head in poll war


As the election campaigns in Israel enter their final month, the main battlegrounds are increasingly within the right and centrist camps.

Both Likud and Labour believe they have little chance of convincing voters to switch camps and are concentrating on becoming the largest party in the next Knesset.

On the right, Likud is trying to attract votes from Habayit Hayehudi and Yisrael Beiteinu by emphasising that only a vote for Benjamin Netanyahu’s party ensures a right-wing coalition.

This has worried Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett, who is already seeing a dip in their previously strong showing in the polls. In a television interview last weekend, he said that voters should decide whether they want “a left-wing government with Netanyahu or a government with me and Netanyahu”. Mr Bennett fears a national-unity coalition which will leave his party in opposition.

Mr Netanyahu responded over Twitter that Habayit Hayehudi “will be a part of our government but nothing bad will happen if they have a few less seats”.

Labour is also trying to attract votes from the centrist parties by projecting a less left-wing image. To this end, it backed the disqualification of controversial Israeli-Arab MK Hanin Zoabi’s candidature on the Joint Arab List. The move led Meretz to accuse Labour of “joining the populist rightist choir”.

One major boost for Mr Netanyahu this week was Shas leader Arye Deri’s announcement that his party would not be part of a left-wing government after the elections, although he refused to explicitly support a Netanyahu government in advance.

The other strictly-Orthodox party, United Torah Judaism, has also indicated its preference for a Likud government.

The polls so far indicate that with the support of the right-wing and Charedi parties, Mr Netanyahu is likely to have a Knesset majority. However, a few polls put the right-religious bloc on only 58 or 59 seats, in which case he would either need the support of a centrist party or to form a national unity government with the Zionist Union (the joint Labour-Livni list).

On Sunday, however, Mr Netanyahu ruled out such a possibility, tweeting that “is a chasm between us [and Labour]”. He added: “If Likud isn’t large enough, there is no guarantee I will be asked to form the next government.”

This statement reflected fears in the prime minister’s circle that if Labour emerges with more seats than Likud, President Reuven Rivlin may award Labour leader Yitzhak Herzog the mandate to form a coalition, even if a Likud-led coalition has potentially more supporters.

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