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Israeli press review: Likud going to primaries ahead of March 2020 election

Meanwhile, polls show Benny Gantz could form a coalition government in next election and PornHub star Feiglin drops out of the race
Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chant slogans and hold up signs during a counter-rally outside Likud party headquarters (AFP)

Possible victory for Benny Gantz?

A new poll by Israeli right-wing newspaper Yisrael Hayom shows a significant margin between interim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main rival Benny Gantz, former army chief and leader of the Blue and White party, in the third election to take place in the span of a year.

Israel will be holding an election in March 2020, after a deadline for forming a government by midnight on 11 December passed without any last-minute progress in deadlocked efforts.

The third election is expected to add fuel to the political chaos inside Israel, which first went to the ballot box in April.

If the poll results prove correct in three months, Netanyahu and his far-right Likud party could lose seats in Israel's parliament, the Knesset, in March 2020. Should Gideon Saar, the current number two in the Likud, become leader, the poll nonetheless projects that the party would not make more gains.

According to the poll, Likud is predicted to win 31 seats, one less than what it secured in the latest election in September. But Blue and White, meanwhile, would see a major leap to 37 seats, allowing Gantz to form a government.

The Blue and White party won 33 seats in the last election, but failed to form a coalition government.

The Joint Arab List, a coalition of Palestinian political factions inside Israel, is anticipated to win 14 seats in the Knesset, one more seat than the last election, according to the Yisrael Hayom poll.

Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party is predicted to see no change in seats and end up with eight MPs in the Knesset.

Lieberman, a former nightclub bouncer turned politician, refused to form a government with either Netanyahu or Gantz after the last election, triggering the latest vote.

Fifty-nine percent of Israelis surveyed said that they would undoubtedly participate in the March election, while 23 percent said that it would be "very likely".

Likud primaries

Around 200 senior Likud members, including ministers, MPs, and heads of local councils, gathered on Friday in Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem to discuss internal party elections.

Likud, a right-wing political party, held its last primaries in 2014, when Netanyahu won against his rival Danny Dannon and went on to win the Israeli election in 2015.

According to Walla news, Netanyahu is aiming to win this time with 80 percent of the votes in the primaries. 

Last month, Netanyahu became the first sitting Israeli premier to be criminally indicted, facing charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust related to three separate corruption cases. He denies the charges.

Finding a proper leader for the Likud who will be able to secure power for the party should Netanyahu be found guilty has become an urgent matter.

Netanyahu’s opponents have called for him to step aside, but Israel’s attorney general said that the premier is not legally required to step down unless convicted and with all appeals exhausted.

Within Likud, Foreign Minister Israel Katz and Miri Regev are among Netanyahu's prime supporters.

The date of the Likud primaries is set for 26 December.

During the meeting on Friday, Netanyahu said that "the road to victory is as simple as it is complex, if we go and vote, we will win”.

Zehut party out of the race

Moshe Feiglin of the right-wing libertarian Zehut party and a pro-settlements activist in the occupied West Bank, announced on Friday that his party would not run in the March 2020 election.

Feiglin wrote on his Facebook page that his party’s message was not getting enough attention.

“We lost the special and free space we created for our message and became a superfluous, strange and unclear part of the visionless right-wing,” he wrote.

His party had high hopes to win seats in April's election but failed, and in September announced that it was withdrawing from the race, saying that it would focus on campaigning and delivering its political vision to the public.

Feiglin is an advocate for the full annexation of the besieged Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank, as well as a proponent of cannabis legalisation. He is also a hawkish homophobic campaigner inside Israel.

In a bizarre twist during the campaign for last April's election, a video of Feiglin made it to the gay category of the well-known PornHub website, according to Haaretz newspaper.

The video was taken from the comedy show “Kablan Kolot” and aired by Ynet news. In the video, the presenter gave Feiglin an over-excited foot massage while making gay allusions.

The video garnered lots of negative feedback, but some Israelis described it as a "success" for homophobic campaigners, arguing it showed that they had nothing against the LGBTQ community.

* Israeli press review is a digest of reports that are not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye.