Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his Likud party would still be the big winners if elections were held today, a new poll in Yediot Acharonot Wednesday said – but Zionist Camp would see a sharp revival of its fortunes if it replaced current party chairperson Avi Gabay with former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.
Currently the Likud has 30 seats in the Knesset, and it would achieve that number in any scenario. Under the current leadership of the respective contenders, the Likud would get 33 seats, nearly double the runner-up, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, which would get 18 seats. Zionist Camp, led by Gabay, would get 15 seats – better than the party has been polling in recent months, according to the poll taken on behalf of the newspaper by pollster Mina Tzemach.
The entry of Gantz into the political arena – something he has hinted at several times in the past, but is still far from a given – would propel Zionist Camp far further, with the party getting 24 seats. In that scenario, Likud would fall slightly, to 30 seats. Those are the numbers both the Likud and Zionist Camp have in the current Knesset. A Gantz-led Zionist Camp would also have a negative impact on Yesh Atid, which would get just 14 seats. Gantz’s “cooling off” period – the period he was not allowed to participate in politics after leaving the IDF – expires this week, but he has not announced any definitive plans.
Also suffering in the latest poll is Jewish Home, which until recently had been polling at 12 to 14 seats – but in the current poll would only get seven, in either scenario. United Torah Jewry, according to the poll, would get seven seats. Meretz, Kulanu and Yisrael Beytenu would get six each, as would a party led by former Yisrael Beytenu MK Orly Levy-Abukasis. United Arab List would get 12 seats.
While the poll shows that Zionist Camp’s fortunes would rise significantly with Gantz at the helm, that would assume that there would be a party to lead – which is also not a definite. Last week, Zionist Camp MK Tzipi Livni – who is head of the Hatnu’ah party, which along with Labor makes up Zionist Camp – demanded that she be named opposition head by Gabay. If he does not comply, Livni will take the eight MKs that are members of Zionist Camp and break up the party, she said at a recent party meeting.
Livni seeks to replace former opposition head Yitzchak Herzog, who left the job and the Knesset in order to head the Jewish Agency. The opposition leader is accorded special status in Knesset discussions, as he speaks after the prime minister during debates, and is generally considered the MK from the opposition most likely to be chosen to run against a sitting prime minister. He also receives increased security, and a ministerial-level vehicle, courtesy of the state.
Competing with Livni for the post are Labor MK Shelly Yechimovich as well as Amir Peretz, also a member of Hatnu’ah. Commenting on the matter last week, Livni said that “in my eyes, the appointment to the position of opposition head is a requirement in order for us to continue our partnership. This can be a great opportunity for us to strengthen our partnership, and could be an important factor in decisions in the future.”
Zionist Camp MK Itzik Shmueli believes that a Hatnu’ah breakaway is more likely than not. “The relations between Livni and Zionist Camp chairperson Avi Gabay are not good – you could even call them poisonous – and the cooperation between both factions has been bad as well,” he told Channel 10. “The only way to resolve the dilemma of who will chair the party is to repair relations between the factions.”