TEL AVIV—Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a narrow lead over his rivals in the race for Israeli leadership in the last poll before Tuesday’s election, but could be deadlocked for a fifth vote in three years.
After the collapse of the government in the summer, Israelis must decide whether to appoint Mr. Netanyahu as prime minister for a third term or return to the unique coalition of left, center, right and Arab parties that defeated him. 2021.
Friday’s poll, the final one that can be published under Israeli law, gave Mr. Netanyahu a narrow lead over his rival, Prime Minister Yair Lapid. Neither party is expected to win an outright majority, but Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Lapid have allies to form a coalition government.
Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party will win 30 seats, according to a poll by Israel’s Hayom news agency. His right-wing and religious allies were predicted to win a combined 61 seats, just enough to form a majority in Israel’s 120-seat parliament.
Mr. Lapid’s Yesh Atid party was predicted to win 25 seats and his anti-Netanyahu bloc 59 seats in the same poll.
However, another poll by the Israeli daily Maariv on Friday showed Mr Netanyahu and his rivals deadlocked with 60 seats each.
Friday’s polls are broadly in line with other recent surveys that show Mr. Netanyahu and his supporters have a majority, or just short of it.
If Ms. Lapid or Netanyahu refuse to form a coalition, their governments are likely to be fragile. Any legislator would have had an incentive to topple the government if its demands were not met.
Mr Netanyahu held the country’s highest office from 2009 until last year, when his rivals joined to form a narrow 61-seat coalition. It was the fourth election in a politically uncertain two-year period that saw Mr Netanyahu indicted on corruption charges in 2019 and the ruling party pulled out of the coalition.
Mr. Lapid’s coalition only opposes Mr. Netanyahu, who argued that he should not be allowed to lead the country while most members of the coalition are on trial for corruption. Mr Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing.
Mr Netanyahu campaigned against the last government, which included the first independent Arab party in Israel’s history, and said it included members who sympathized with terrorists. The coalition disintegrated in less than a year as members clashed over policies related to West Bank settlements, the Palestinians, religion and state issues.
The election is likely to decide which side of the camp is neck-and-neck and better at increasing voter turnout. Mr. Netanyahu has an advantage, political analysts say, because all four parties in his coalition have the threshold of 3.25 percent of the vote to win a seat in parliament. Parties with less than 3.25 percent of votes are excluded.
Israel’s Hayom poll shows the three parties in the anti-Netanyahu bloc hovering near the political danger zone. If any of them fail to enter parliament, Mr. Netanyahu’s bloc will almost certainly win the majority.
Despite the 61 lawmakers who opposed Mr. Netanyahu after the election, Mr. Lapid will still struggle to form a coalition. He would have to rely on the support of Arab parties, but said his allies would refuse to join a coalition because of Palestinian nationalist parties.
Mr. Netanyahu’s bloc is united; He is its undisputed leader and often shares the same ideals. Alongside Mr Netanyahu in the minority government is Religious Zionism co-chair Itamar Ben-Gvir, a far-right lawmaker whose party won 15 seats in the Israel Hayom poll and 14 in the Maariv poll. Mr. Ben-Gvir has called for the use of lethal force against Palestinians who engage in violence during protests and for the deportation of those who seek to denigrate Israel’s Jewish character.
In a pinch, Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz may be the biggest winner. His National Unity Party is now expected to win 11 or 12 seats each in Israel’s Hayom and Ma’ariv polls, made up of center- and right-wing lawmakers, including some senior Likud defectors.
Mr. Gantz described himself as the only candidate to bridge the gap between Mr. Netanyahu and his rivals. In the event of a deadlock, he could either step into a rotating government first or accept Mr. Netanyahu’s offer to continue as defense minister in Mr. Lapid’s transition government as the country prepares for a sixth round of elections.
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