Netanyahu Lead Narrows in Poll as Jewish Home Party Gains

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitenu electoral coalition lost support in a new poll by Haaretz daily, as the Jewish Home party that favors increased building of West Bank settlements continued to gain.

Likud-Beitenu would win 34 parliamentary seats according to today’s poll, down from 35 in a Dec. 31 Haaretz survey and 39 on Dec. 10. Parties likely to support Netanyahu’s efforts to form a new coalition after the Jan. 22 vote would still gain more than half of the seats in Israel’s 120-seat parliament, the Knesset.

Among the parties expressing support for Netanyahu as premier is Jewish Home, which opposes concessions to the Palestinians in the peace process. Jewish Home would gain 14 seats according to today’s poll, up one from Dec. 31 and five from Dec. 10.

Likud-Beitenu’s decline “is in part a result of mistakes in its campaign strategy,” according to Tamir Sheafer, a professor in the political science department of Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

He cited Netanyahu’s criticism of Jewish Home last month after its leader Naftali Bennett said that as a soldier he would refuse orders to evacuate West Bank settlements. “Those attacks only gave Jewish Home more publicity,” Sheafer said.

Sheafer also said that with Netanyahu, 63, so clearly the front-runner for prime minister, voters who might support his party in a closer race feel more comfortable backing smaller factions that will end up in his coalition anyway.

Likud-Beitenu is still polling at more than twice the strength of its closest competitor, the Labor party, which would win 16 seats according to the Haaretz survey. The poll of 666 Israelis has a 3.9 percent margin of error, the daily said.

Netanyahu merged his Likud party list with former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu faction in October. Liberman was indicted on Dec. 30 on fraud and breach of trust charges after stepping down as minister.

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