Netanyahu Paints Doomsday Scenario to Woo Vote as Likud Lags

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting for voter support with dire predictions of an Arab-supported coalition as his Likud begins to trail the Labor-led Zionist Union in polls ahead of March 17 elections.

“There is a good chance that Bougie Herzog and Tzipi Livni will be the next prime ministers of Israel,” Netanyahu said in a Channel Two interview Thursday, referring to his rivals by their nicknames. “There is such a danger, if we don’t close the gap in the coming days.”

Livni and Isaac “Bougie” Herzog, co-leaders of the Zionist Union ticket, have agreed to take turns as prime minister if they form the next government. A poll in the daily Haaretz on Thursday showed Zionist Union, which favors renewed peacemaking with the Palestinians, winning 24 of parliament’s 120 seats to Likud’s 21. Two polls published Tuesday showed similar outcomes.

In the YouTube video posted on Wednesday, Netanyahu urged potential supporters to vote for Likud instead of other parties that share its opposition to territorial concessions to the Palestinians, warning that otherwise Herzog and Livni, “with Arab support,” would form the next government. A coalition of Arab parties is running in third place, according to some recent polls.

Tight Race

The prime minister, who called snap elections in December after months of acrimonious relations with coalition partners, is finding himself in a tight race to win a fourth tenure. Because neither Likud and Zionist Union will capture a parliamentary majority, either one would have to form a coalition to govern. While Likud is trailing in number of seats, polls indicate it would have an easier time forming a coalition with parties that take a similarly hard line against territorial concessions to the Palestinians.

Even so, with Likud losing seats in the polls in recent weeks, “Netanyahu is definitely worried,” Interior Minister Gilad Erdan of Likud said on Army Radio on Thursday. “We are concerned about the recent trend in polls.”

Pollster Mina Zemach said the gap was more a matter of Likud losing votes to center and center-right parties than Zionist Union gaining. Netanyahu’s small bounce in the polls after he assailed U.S. of being soft on Iran in a March 3 speech before Congress has dissipated.

‘Very Confident’

Herzog told Army Radio he wasn’t taking the positive momentum for granted, yet remained “very confident of my ability to change the government.”

Zionist Union sent out text messages urging activists to hand out fliers at busy traffic junctions across the country Friday. Tens of thousands of people rallied in Tel Aviv on Saturday calling to unseat Netanyahu.

Reuven Hazan, a political scientist at Hebrew University, cautioned against concluding that Zionist Union would automatically lead the next government if it wins the most seats. Under Israel’s electoral system, if no party wins a parliamentary majority, the party the president sees as best able to form a governing coalition is tapped for the job.

“This is not a race for who comes in first, but who can subsequently form a majority government,” Hazan said. “While Likud is trailing, they are still more likely to form a majority.”

The gap in favor of the Zionist Union “doesn’t mean that they will form the next government, and the gap has to get bigger in order to make that a possibility,” he said. Hazan put that margin at four to five seats.

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