Did Netanyahu’s speech help his electoral prospects?

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu appears to have become more popular at home as a result of his speech to Congress last week. However, his prospects in the upcoming Israeli elections seemingly remain where they were before his address.

These are the paradoxical findings of a poll taken on Wednesday and Thursday for the Jerusalem Post.

According to the poll, the percentage of Israelis who say they want Netanyahu to remain prime minister rose from 42 to 46 this week. The percentage who say they do not want him as prime minister fell from 50 to 44. This marks only the second time in the last two months that a majority wanted Netanyahu to retain his office.

However, this uptick in Netanyahu’s popularity did not translate into an improved position in the parliamentary election, according to the same poll. Before the speech, the Zionist Union led Netanyahu’s Likud party by 25 seats to 23. Now, following his address, the Zionist Union leads 24-22.

Both parties are far short of a majority of Knesset seats. Thus, the winner will be the candidate who can gain sufficient votes from other parties to piece together a parliamentary majority.

Here too, the race seems too close to call. The poll predicts that parties on the “Right” will win 56 seats and parties on the “Left” will win the same number.

The possibility exists that Likud and Zionist Union will form a unity government. Netanyahu has seemed to rule out that option in the past. However, one of his confidants told the Jerusalem Post that the prime minister is willing to form a unity government, provided he can bring in the parties on the Right first under coalition guidelines the Right could accept.

If, as the polls now show, a majority of Israelis want Netanyahu to remain prime minister, then perhaps the boost he got from his speech to Congress may improve his chances of landing on his feet in the post-election scramble to form a government. But Israeli electoral politics are too byzantine for me to put forward this view with any confidence.

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