JERUSALEM, (Reuters) – Sixty-three percent of Israelis want Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign in a sharp public rebuke over his handling of the war in Lebanon, a newspaper poll showed on Friday.
The Yedioth Aronoth poll showed for the first time a majority favoured Olmert stepping down, along with a big jump in support for the right-wing Likud party and its leader, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Another poll in the Maariv newspaper showed that only 14 percent of Israelis would vote for Olmert if new elections were held today, while 26 percent would back Netanyahu, a former prime minister.
The Yedioth poll said 45 percent would support Netanyahu as prime minister in new elections.
Yedioth, Israel’s biggest circulation daily, called the survey results a political “earthquake” for Olmert, whose centrist Kadima party crushed Netanyahu’s Likud in general elections in March. A similar poll published a week ago showed 41 percent wanted Olmert to resign.
Olmert, a career politician who lacks the combat credentials of many of his predecessors, has seen his public standing plummet for failing to deliver a fatal blow to Hizbollah during the 34-day war in Lebanon.
Twenty-two percent of Israelis in the Yedioth poll deemed Netanyahu “most fit” to be prime minister, compared to 11 percent for Olmert.
Olmert also trailed ultranationalist Avigdor Lieberman with 18 percent and senior statesman Shimon Peres with 12 percent, according to Yedioth.
The Maariv poll showed that if elections were held today, Olmert’s Kadima party would win just 14 seats in parliament, compared to 24 seats each for Likud and Lieberman’s party.
The left-leaning Labour party would win just nine seats.
In addition to calling for Olmert’s resignation, 74 percent of sraelis in the Yedioth poll said Defence Minister Amir Peretz, the left-leaning Labour party leader, should step down. Fifty-four percent want army chief Dan Halutz to step down.
Many Israelis viewed a U.N.-brokered ceasefire backed by Olmert as a failure for Israel because Hizbollah’s leadership was left standing and the two Israeli soldiers, whose capture by Hizbollah on July 12 sparked the war, were still in captivity.
At least 1,110 people in Lebanon and 157 Israelis were killed in the conflict.
In a bid to boost his public standing, Olmert on Thursday visited several northern towns hard hit by Hizbollah rockets and promised more than $2 billion in reconstruction funding.
But Olmert is already struggling to hold together his coalition with Labour and the prime minister did not say where the new reconstruction funds would come from.
Olmert has put on hold for now his proposal for an Israeli pullout from parts of the occupied West Bank.
The proposal was the centrepiece of the government programme that won him election in March. But resurgent violence in Gaza, which Israel evacuated last year, plus the Lebanon war appears to have dampened public enthusiasm for territorial withdrawals.
The Maariv poll showed 73 percent of Israelis opposed future unilateral withdrawals.