Israeli poll shows ruling Likud party trails Zionist Union

Panic in Likud ranks as Labor leader Yitzhak Herzog and centrist Tzipi Livni’s joint Zionist Union are projected to win 25 seats, as opposed to 21 for Netanyahu’s Likud

An Israeli printer works on a poster of Israeli Prime Minister and Chairman of the Likud Party, Benjamin Netanyahu in a printing house in Rosh Haayin near Tel Aviv, Israel. Photograph: EPA

With only six days before Israelis vote in a general election, the latest polls give the centre-left Zionist Union a dramatic four-to-three-seat lead over prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu's ruling Likud party – the biggest gap since the start of the campaign.

A Channel 2 TV poll indicated a four-seat gap, with Labor leader Yitzhak Herzog and centrist Tzipi Livni's joint Zionist Union projected to win 25 seats, as opposed to 21 for Mr Netanyahu's Likud in the 120-seat Knesset parliament.

According to the Knesset TV channel poll, the Zionist Union will receive 24 seats, compared to 21 for the Likud.

The lead of three or four seats marks a significant boost for the Zionist Union, which was only one seat ahead of the Likud last week, following Mr Netanyahu’s controversial speech to the US Congress where he outlined the dangers of the nuclear deal being negotiated between the world powers and Iran.


Likud panic

Political analysts reported panic in the Likud ranks after Tuesday’s poll results and new momentum among the centre and left parties who now believe, for the first time, that the prospect of Labor returning to power after 14 years is achievable.

The Knesset channel poll showed the centrist Yesh Atid with 14 mandates; the Joint Arab List 13; the far-right Jewish Home 12; Moshe Kahlon’s centrist Kulanu party nine seats;, while the ultra-Orthodox Shas party got seven, and the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism received six mandates. Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu and the left-wing Meretz were tied with five seats each, and Eli Yishai’s ultra-Orthodox Yachad party narrowly passed the electoral threshold with four seats.

President Reuven Rivlin will decide which party to task with forming the next government after he hears the recommendations of the heads of each of the parties elected to the next Knesset. However, most analysts believe a significant four-seat gap would mean the president will automatically ask the leader of the largest party to try to cobble together a working coalition.

Meanwhile, foreign minister Mr Lieberman, the head of Yisrael Beiteinu, has caused controversy with comments implying that disloyal Arab citizens should be killed.

“Whoever’s with us should get everything,” Mr Lieberman said at an election rally, in reference to the loyalty of Israeli Arabs, who make up 20 per cent of Israel’s population. “Those who are against us, there’s nothing to be done – we need to pick up an axe and cut off his head. Otherwise we won’t survive here.”

The Palestinian Authority (PA) condemned what it termed "the racist call to murder by the extremist" Lieberman.

“This is a clear call for the murder of Palestinians and Arabs and an ethnic cleansing campaign,” the PA said in a statement. It called on the international community to condemn and boycott Mr Lieberman.

This is not the first time Mr Lieberman, who advocates the redrawing of the map to include Arab areas of Israel’s Galilee in a future Palestinian state, has made controversial anti-Arab comments.

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem