Polls Show Netanyahu Weaker, Right Stronger

YERUSHALAYIM -

Israeli voters had an early, if unofficial, say in the choice of new leadership, as polls showed that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has lost popularity while others on the right have been gaining.

According to one newspaper poll, 60 percent of Israelis think that Netanyahu has been prime minister long enough, and are looking at alternatives such as former Likud figures Moshe Kahlon and Gideon Saar.

Former Interior Minister Gideon Saar bested Netanyahu by 43 to 38 points in a poll published by The Jerusalem Post on Friday. Nineteen percent said they did not know how they would vote in a race between the two.

Saar would not comment on the poll, but sources close to him say it strengthens the case for his candidacy and he is seriously considering a run.

Kahlon’s new party, still being organized, is projected to win double digits in the Knesset.

A survey sponsored by the Likud party itself revealed that if right-wing MK Moshe Feiglin were to head the party electoral list, it would take 18 seats in the Knesset, exactly the same as what it has currently under Netanyahu. Although Feiglin’s chances of unseating Netanyahu in the upcoming primaries are virtually nil, it does bespeak an electorate in search of a new leader.

Feiglin took the results in stride. “The results of the poll aren’t surprising,” he said. “But they certainly highlight the most important question in these elections: Who can bring back the votes that have migrated to Jewish Home and Yisrael Beiteinu.”

Netanyahu reportedly is seeking early primaries to go with early elections; if he can move the primary date up from January 6, it will give Saar less time to organize an internal challenge.

The party confirmed that early primaries are likely, though without mentioning Saar by name. “The prime minister wants the party to be ready as soon as possible for the general election,” the Likud statement said.

“Advancing the race would shorten the primary, save resources, and unite the party ahead of the election that will decide who the prime minister will be and what party will run the country.”

Meanwhile, the challenge to Netanyahu from outside the Likud was still on the runway but hasn’t taken off yet.