Photo Credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90
Benjamin Netanyahu and Nir Barkat, February 16, 2020.

In a survey conducted by Menachem Lazar of Panels Politics, which aired on 103FM, respondents were asked whom they would vote for should Likud be running under the chairmanship of Benjamin Netanyahu. Subsequently, they were presented with four scenarios should Netanyahu retire and Likud would be led by Nir Barkat, Yuli Edelstein, Miri Regev, or Israel Katz.

The response to the first question was familiar from the past four election rounds in Israel: with Netanyahu leading in the next election, Likud would receive 33 seats and remain the largest party by a considerable margin. However, together with its coalition partners Shas (8), religious Zionism (8), and United Torah Judaism (7), Likud would once again fail to reach above 56 seats and would remain in the opposition – presuming Religious Zionism Chairman MK Bezalel Smotrich would persist in objecting to the inclusion of Ra’am (5).

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The right-left bloc, consisting of the parties currently in government, would end with 57 seats, with Yesh Atid (19), Blue&White (9), Labor (7), Yamina (6), Israel Beiteinu (6), Meretz (5), and Ra’am (5). Gideon Saar’s New Hope is completely erased in this scenario and does not cross the threshold percentage. The Joint Arab List hovers between the two blocs with 7 seats.

So far it’s the familiar stuff, to be followed by endless election cycles, each ending with the same results. But one tweak of the above scenario changes everything: One candidate, according to the survey, can preserve the Likud’s advantage and decide the election by a margin that’s almost as high as Netanyahu’s: it’s Nir Barkat. The former mayor of Jerusalem, who stated that he intends to run for the party leadership the day after Netanyahu departs, would succeed in leading the Likud to 29 seats if the elections were held today. It’s four seats fewer than Netanyahu’s, but Likud remains the largest party, holding a gap of ten seats from Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid in second place.

Here are the results with Barkat leading Likud:

Likud………………………………………………29
Yesh Atid……………………….……………….19
Blue&White……………………………………10
Shas…………………………………………..…….9
Religious Zionism…………………………….9
Yamina……………………………………….…….7
Joint Arab List……………………………..…..7
United Torah Judaism………………………7
Labor……………………………………………..….7
Israel Beiteinu………………………………….6
Meretz………………………………………………5
Ra’am……………………………………………….5

The four seats that the Likud would lose would be divided among Religious Zionism, Blue&White, Yamina, and Shas. But in exchange for this minor loss, the right-bloc dominates the political map like it’s 2015 all over again, ready to govern without leftists, without Arabs, and without Benny Gantz behind Likud and Prime Minister Nir Barkat. The coalition led by Barkat’s Likud (29), would include Shas (9), religious Zionism (9), Yamina (7), United Torah Judaism (7), and even Israel Beiteinu (6) since there’s no bad blood between Avigdor Liberman and Nir Barkat. It would be a 67-seat government, which could eventually lure in some key MKs from Blue&White. The nightmare would be over.

Only Barkat can do it, according to the poll. The other three scenarios – with Yisrael Katz, Yuli Edelstein, and Miri Regev – barely scratch 20 seats. They would still be able to put together a right-wing coalition government, but one in which Likud is a weaker partner. Incidentally, with Katz, Edelstein, and Regev at the top, Gideon Sa’ar comes back to life and his New Hope gets four seats, enough to cross the threshold.

If ever there were proof that Netanyahu is holding back his Likud party – this survey spells it out very clearly. By the way, Netanyahu could strike a deal with Barkat to come back as a government minister after the end of his trial – Netanyahu has already served as Ariel Sharon’s finance minister after his first stint as prime minister.

The survey was conducted over the weekend by Panels Politics. To get the most reliable results possible, it was split into two surveys, each with 650 respondents, members of Panel4All’s respondents’ panel online. Each of the surveys was transferred to a representative sample of the adult population in the State of Israel aged 18 and over, Jews and Arabs alike. The two samples were identical in terms of sampling characteristics. The sampling error for each survey was approximately 3.4 percent. The Likud leadership alternatives in each survey were presented to every respondent in a randomly changing order, to avoid an influence by the order of presentation of each option.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.