Friday 5 January 2024

Only 15% of Israelis want Netanyahu to remain prime minister after the war

A new poll has found that only 15 percent of Israelis want Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to remain in office once the ongoing conflict with Hamas and other Palestinian militants in Gaza ends.

The poll was conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem-based research organization.

Netanyahu's political rival and current partner in the temporary unity war cabinet, the more centrist Benny Gantz, garnered support from 23 percent of interviewees. Around 30 percent did not name a preferred prime minister.

The poll was conducted among 746 respondents between Dec. 25 to 28, with a confidence level of 95 percent. A previous poll by the institute earlier in December indicates that 69 percent of Israelis want an election following the conclusion of the conflict.

The institute's polling is consistent with the results of the most recent opinion polls published in Israel. One survey, conducted by Channel 13 and released in December, noted that Netanyahu's extremist party, Likud, would only win 18 seats – down from its current 32 – in the Knesset. Gantz's National Unity party would become the largest in the Knesset with 37 seats, more than triple its current 12.

Furthermore, Netanyahu's prewar extremist coalition would be able to muster just 44 seats in the Knesset compared to the 64 they won in the previous election in November 2022. At least 61 seats are needed to form a majority in the parliament. A presumed future coalition bloc made up of the main opposition parties would win 71 seats.

Netanyahu may be intentionally prolonging the conflict

Political analysts are strongly suggesting that Netanyahu is aware that his tenure as prime minister ends after the conflict. In a recent statement he even admitted that it would be months before Israel could declare victory in Gaza, with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) preparing for most of its forces to retreat from the Strip.

This is part of the IDF's new strategy of waging a lengthy and low-intensity campaign focusing on eliminating remaining Hamas strongholds and "pockets of resistance" in Gaza. Israeli military officials expect this phase of the conflict to last for many months more.

Analysts have pointed out that a prolonged conflict would give Netanyahu sufficient justification to delay calling for new elections. Under Israel's parliamentary system, lawmakers serve for four-year terms that can be cut short through early elections, which can be called if the prime minister wishes or if he loses the support of a majority of the Knesset. The latest the election can be held is Oct. 27, 2026.

This gives Netanyahu nearly three years to improve his political standing, either during the war or right after. Even now, analysts say Netanyahu is using his position as Israel's wartime leader to test campaign slogans, try to appease his more moderate-leaning coalition partners and attempt to deny any responsibility for the calamity that befell the country on Oct. 7.

"Every moment of his life, he is a politician," said Mazal Mualem, a biographer of Netanyahu, who noted that the prime minister's strategy is intended to buy time for him and to try to salvage his shrinking polling numbers. "Bibi always thinks he has a chance [to survive the next election]."

Critics note that he has been using the war to appeal to his more extremist-leaning base of support and pitting his political rivals and opponents against each other.

"It is no longer the good of the country Netanyahu is thinking about, but his own political and legal salvation," wrote military commentator Amos Harel. He and other commentators believe Netanyahu is interested in dragging out the war to regain public support through military achievements or in the hopes that time might work in his favor as the nation recovers.

Netanyahu has already served longer than any other Israeli leader, having held on to the top spot for 17 years.

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