JERUSALEM (AP) — A poll conducted ahead of Israel's March elections and published Friday indicates strong support for the country's rightwing bloc but also doubts over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's leadership.
Netanyahu fired two ministers from centrist coalition partners earlier this week, forcing the election, which is expected to be fought over Israel's stagnant economy and its tenuous security situation, including its tense relations with the United States.
If re-elected as prime minister, Netanyahu has indicated he would like to cobble together a coalition of right wing and religious parties which could be expected to push Jewish settlement in the West Bank and promote Israel's identity as a Jewish state.
The new poll, published in the Maariv newspaper, shows that together, five rightwing and religious parties would receive 63 seats in the 120-seat parliament, enough to form a government. While the bloc is an unofficial one, it represents parties whose ideas are more or less in line with those of Netanyahu himself. Its largest component —and the overall leader in the poll — is Netanyahu's own Likud Party.
The bloc would swell to 74 seats in the Knesset if former Likud lawmaker Moshe Kahlon's newly formed party joined in.
But the poll also shows that 60 percent of Israelis want to replace Netanyahu as prime minister, with Kahlon and former Likud minister Gideon Saar both emerging as preferable alternatives.
The poll shows Labor Party leader Issac Herzog lagging behind the prime minister by only a single percentage point. Labor is one of the kingpins of the left-center bloc that seeks to replace Netanyahu, and re-ignite Israel's stalled peace process with the Palestinians.
The poll was conducted Wednesday by telephone among 500 respondents. It has a 4.3 percent margin of error.