JERUSALEM (AP) – The Likud Party’s selection of a slate of ultra-hawkish candidates has not immediately hurt the faction’s prospects in upcoming parliamentary elections, a pair of polls indicated on Wednesday.
Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, a hard-liner who has been trying to portray himself as a centrist, had been concerned that the list of candidates chosen in this week’s primary could hurt his quest to return to the prime minister’s office.
But those fears were not borne out by Wednesday’s surveys, though pollsters said sentiments could shift once voters better understood the slate’s composition.
A Dialog poll of 422 respondents showed Likud winning 36 of parliament’s 120 seats if elections were to be held today, up from 34 in the previous poll. A Dahaf Research Institute poll of 503 people showed Likud slipping to 31 seats from 32. Either outcome would put Likud in a strong position to form the next coalition government. The margins of error were 5.8 percent and 4.3 percent, respectively.
“In effect, what we have here is stability,” Dahaf director Mina Zemach said. “It’s very difficult to draw conclusions on shifts from such changes.”
Even if the primary outcome doesn’t weaken Likud in the Feb. 10 parliamentary vote, it could deal a setback to Mideast peace talks if the party wins.
Netanyahu already opposes the current peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians and hopes to limit contacts to economic cooperation. A faction packed with lawmakers who take an even harder line against concessions could make any compromises that much harder.
The big winner in the primary was Netanyahu’s nemesis, Moshe Feiglin. His theocratic platform calls for banning minority Arab citizens from the parliament and pulling Israel out of the United Nations. At least 10 people in the Likud’s top 30 candidates are outspoken hardliners who are unlikely to support even the smallest concessions that Netanyahu might offer.
In an interview Wednesday with the Israeli parliament’s TV channel, Feiglin said Israel should formally annex the West Bank and pay each Palestinian family $250,000 to move away. “They want to emigrate,” he said. “There are certainly countries who want to take them in.”
Netanyahu resisted peace efforts when he was prime minister from 1996-1999, though the U.S. pressured him into some concessions to the Palestinians.
But to return to the prime minister’s office, Netanyahu hopes to draw support from Israel’s increasingly centrist and pragmatic electorate. He had feared that the addition of candidates like Feiglin and his supporters to the Likud slate would scare away voters put off by their level of extremism. For weeks, he had tried to marginalize him, fearing a Feiglin victory would drive potential Likud voters into the arms of the currently ruling Kadima Party, headed by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Dialog’s poll showed Kadima slipping to 27 seats from 28, while Dahaf’s saw her losing two seats, to 24.
The pollsters said it was possible that the implications of Feiglin’s strong showing had not yet sunk in with the electorate.
Camil Fuchs, who supervised the Dialog poll, said most of the people questioned were aware of the primary results but had not heard the commentaries that bombarded the airwaves on Tuesday, predicting the “Feiglin effect” would hurt Netanyahu by creating the impression that the slate was ultra-extreme. “It’s possible that there will be a rolling effect in the near future,” Fuchs said.