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Israel poll shows Netanyahu struggling and the left doomed

Poll sees Gideon Saar, leader of the newly formed New Hope Party, as favourite to win the Israeli legislative elections planned for next year

Electoral workers count ballots cast by Israelis in the last election on 4 March 2020 (AFP)

Gideon Saar, leader of the newly formed New Hope - Unity for Israel Party, has appeared in polls as the strongest candidate to win the Israeli legislative elections on 23 March 2021.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be in a tight position to form a government with 61 seats in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, and his Likud Party could win 28 seats in the March 2021 elections, according to a poll released by Radio 103.

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At midnight on Tuesday, Israel's unity government collapsed and parliament was dissolved after Netanyahu's ruling coalition failed to pass a budget.

Netanyahu opened his campaign on Wednesday, saying that the only way to form a right-wing government “without the left parties, is to vote Likud”.

Saar’s New Hope Party is expected to win 18 seats and shift some of Likud's voters towards it.

Saar has a chance to form a government of 63 seats with the centrist party of Yesh Atid, the right-wing Yamina and the ultra-Orthodox parties of Shas and United Torah Judaism.

He could even form a government of 70 seats if Yisrael Beiteinu, headed by the staunch secularist Avigdor Liberman, agreed to sit down with religious leaders of Shas and United Torah Judaism.

'Gantz walked back'

If Saar is successful, according to the Radio 103 poll, Netanyhau’s Likud Party would be excluded from the next government. 

Yesh Atid is expected to win 15 seats, coming third after Likud and New Hope. Meanwhile, Yamina is projected to take 14 seats and the Arab Joint List Party 11. Shas and United Torah Judaism are expected to win eight seats each, Yisrael Beiteinu seven seats, Meretz six seats and Blue and White only five seats.

Labor, the party which ruled Israel in the first three decades of its existence, was not shown by the polls to be picking up enough votes to secure seats in the Knesset.

'I didn't want elections. Likud didn't want elections. We voted again and again against elections'

- Benjamin Netanyahu

Hours before the dissolution of the Knesset on Tuesday night, Netanyahu had insisted that he'd done everything to prevent fresh elections, claiming that "[Benny] Gantz walked back on his agreements with us". 

"I didn't want elections. Likud didn't want elections. We voted again and again against elections," Netanyahu said

On 28 January, Netanyahu was indicted in three separate cases of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, becoming the first sitting Israeli premier to be accused of corruption.

He has frequently denied any wrongdoing and rejects what he calls “false accusations” that are “politically motivated”.

Netanyahu could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison if found guilty of bribery and three years in prison for fraud and breach of trust.