MESOP MIDEAST WATCH: WILL THEY RETURN ? TRUMP&NETANJAHU?Poll: Despite potential plea deal, support for Netanyahu remains high

By  Mati Tuchfeld ISRAEL HAYOM –  01-19-2022 If former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signs a plea bargain

that forces him to resign from political life, the citizens of Israel will lose the person they believe is most suited to lead a government, according to an Israel Hayom poll conducted this week amid recent reports of a potential plea deal between Netanyahu and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.

The poll, which was conducted on Tuesday by the Maagar Mochot research institute for Israel Hayom, found that 34% of the people questioned believe Netanyahu is the best person for the job of prime minister. Lagging in a distant second, just 17% of those questioned said Yair Lapid is most suited for the position. Current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, meanwhile, was believed to be most suitable by just 6% of the people questioned, even less than several senior Likud members (described in the survey as Netanyahu’s “competitors”), and even less than Benny Gantz (7%).

The belief in the political system was and remains that if Netanyahu concludes that his chances of becoming prime minister again in the coming years are high, while his trial is ongoing, he will not sign a plea agreement; and that if he feels those chances are slim, he will sign one.

The poll, which included a representative sample of the adult population in Israel of 504 people, with a maximum sampling error of 4.4%, also found that Netanyahu still lacks several mandates to return to power – assuming that Bennett’s Yamina party won’t join a Netanyahu-led government. The Likud, according to the poll, would increase its number of seats to 34 under Netanyahu, and that the remainder of the right-wing-Haredi bloc currently in the Opposition would have 58 mandates. If Yamina joins, this bloc under Netanyahu would have 63 mandates.

Yamina, based on the poll, would receive just five mandates. Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party would receive a mere three mandates and fail to pass the electoral threshold. Among those who voted for Yamina in the election for the 24th Knesset, only one-third said they would vote for the party again. Of those voters, 19% said they would vote for the Likud party, while 13% said they’d vote for the Religious Zionist Party (upping the number of its mandates to eight). One-quarter of the people questioned in the poll are “sitting on the fence” and presently don’t know which party to support. New Hope voters mainly dispersed between supporting Likud (19%), Yamina (12%), and Blue and White (4%). Overall, 29% of New Hope voters said they were still undecided over which party to support.

Public opinion divided over plea deal

The political system is still unsure if the coming days will bring an end to the Netanyahu era, as are potential voters. And yet, the results of the poll indicate that right now, the public prefers one candidate to replace Netanyahu as leader of the Opposition – Nir Barkat. If Barkat is elected to lead Likud, it would result in fewer mandates, but not by much.

A Barkat-led Likud would receive 29 mandates, which together with the right-wing bloc in the Opposition would be worth 59 mandates. Similar to Netanyahu, Barkat would lack a majority in the Knesset without Yamina. However, there is speculation that right-wing parties in the coalition could support Barkat and join a government under him, contrary to the scenario in which Netanyahu would continue to lead Likud.

With that, if Likud is headed by Yuli Edelstein or Israel Katz, the largest party currently in the Knesset would receive significantly fewer mandates and essentially fall behind Yesh Atid. Edelstein, according to the poll, would lead to Likud to just 16 mandates, while Katz would lead the party to 15.

And what does the public think about a potential plea deal? Apparently, it is extremely divided. The poll examined who the winner and loser of such a deal would be, and found that 36% of those questioned believe the State Attorney’s Office and attorney general will have conceded more to reach a plea based on the parameters described in media reports. On the other hand, 23% of those questioned believe Netanyahu will have lost if such a plea deal is finalized. In the middle, 29% of those questioned said both sides will have conceded equally, while 12% believe neither side will have conceded.

Although the distribution is not clear-cut, it’s fair to note that supporters of right-wing parties generally believe Netanyahu will have conceded more in such a plea bargain, while supporters of left-wing parties believe the attorney general and State Attorney’s Office will have conceded more to reach the reported plea agreement.