Likud Merger with Tsomet May Not Sway Israeli Public

As the right-wing Likud and Tsomet parties put the finishing touches on their agreement to run on a joint list in the forthcoming Knesset elections, a mock vote at a high school that has accurately forecast Israeli political races for 20 years predicted defeat for the newly formed front.

The mock election at Blich High School, located in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan, gave a resounding victory to the Labor Party and to Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

The Labor Party received 46 percent of the vote; Likud and Tsomet, 36 percent; the left-wing Meretz Party, 10 percent; and the right-wing Third Way and Moledet parties, 6 and 2 percent, respectively.

In a separate vote for prime minister, Peres garnered 61 percent of the vote to Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s 39 percent.

The school said that 97 percent of eligible voters in the 11th and 12th grade – some 780 students – participated in the ballot.

The school vote is traditionally held every two years, and in the past has closely predicted voting trends nationwide, including the 1977 victory of Menachem Begin’s Likud over Peres’ Labor and the return to power of Labor in 1992.

The vote reflected the sentiments expressed in a public opinion poll on Israel Television’s Channel 2 that a merger between Likud and Tsomet would not substantially change the election results.

According to that poll, if Likud and Tsomet ran separately, Likud would receive 31 Knesset seats, Tsomet 6, Labor 43 and Meretz 8.

The poll showed that a joint Likud-Tsomet list would receive 37 seats – the same result as if the parties ran separately.

According to the same poll, Tsomet leader Rafael Eitan’s dropping out of the direct vote for the premiership – a key feature of the agreement with Likud – narrowed the gap between Peres and Netanyahu in that race from 9.6 percent to 4 percent.

Likud’s alliance with Tsomet represented an attempt by Netanyahu to narrow the gap with Labor in the Knesset race and to improve his own prospects in the separate vote for prime minister.

According to the agreement, seven Tsomet candidates will be included among the first 40 spots on the combined list, with Eitan given the second position on the list behind Netanyahu.

In return, Eitan dropped out of the race for the premiership, and Tsomet committed itself not to join a coalition headed by Peres, in case Labor wins the elections.

The agreement was expected to be brought next week before the central committees of Likud and Tsomet for ratification.

Although Netanyahu and Eitan described the agreement as an essential unification of the “national camp,” the agreement has already come under fire from within the Likud, primarily from those who did not want to give up their positions on the list in favor of Tsomet candidates.

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