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Netanyahu narrowly leads polls as Israel prepares for its third election in a year

The prime minister and his Likud party are projected to gain just one seat more than their main rival, Benny Gantz and the Blue and White party, in next week's general election
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses Likud party supporters during an electoral rally in the central Israeli city of Rosh Haayin, on 13 February (AFP)

A new poll published on Tuesday projected a narrow win for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party in next week’s general election, as the country prepares for its third vote in a year.

According to the poll ahead of the 2 March election, Netanyahu’s Likud is set to become the largest political faction in the Knesset with 33 seats, just one spot more than the 32 seats that his primary challenger Benny Gantz and the Blue and White party are expected to gain, Channel 13 News reported.

The Joint List, a political alliance that represents Palestinian citizens of Israel, is on course to get 14 seats and remain the third-largest party after Blue and White and Likud. 

Meanwhile, Labor-Gesher and Meretz would come in fourth with 10 seats.

Labor-Gesher leader Amir Peretz and Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz have merged their parties and are running on one ticket. For Israel's first few decades, Labor was the country's dominant party, but its support has severely diminished in recent years.

Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party, which has had the opportunity to play kingmaker in Israel's last two elections but prompted repeat polls instead, would maintain eight seats.

Netanyahu would fall five seats short to build a coalition government, garnering only 56 seats of his right-wing bloc.

The poll put his allies of Ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism on eight and seven seats, respectively. 

The religious-nationalist New Right of Defence Minister Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, the ex-justice minister, is set for eight MPs.

Unconvincing predictions

Israel’s political landscape is unlikely to be shaken by yet more poll results, as time and time again they show a nearly equal number of seats won by the rival parties, leading many to fear that neither Likud nor Blue and White would be able to form a government.

Both of the elections held last April and September proved inconclusive, and the results of Tuesday's poll raise the expectations of yet another election.

Polls in early February suggested that Blue and White would get 36 seats. Gantz’s popularity has since slightly dropped and now only 30 percent of the poll respondents said they would vote for him. On the other hand, 44 percent said that they saw Netanyahu as Israel’s premier.

Illustrating the political deadlock that Israel has reached in the last year, Peretz of the Labor-Gesher party said during his campaign that the “situation proves that the fiction known as ‘the largest party’ has failed”.

“It does not matter how many more seats Blue and White has than Likud. This is the third election campaign that Israel has been led into because of this mistaken idea… the size of the bloc is what decides,” he said.

Netanyahu is now battling not only for his political survival but also for his freedom, as he is currently facing corruption charges in which he could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison if found guilty.