Benny Gantz and Binyamin Netanyahu
Benny Gantz and Binyamin NetanyahuMiriam Alster/FLASH90

Could a retired IDF general save the Zionist Union from its electoral decline?

Despite a merger with former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua faction prior to the 2015 election, and the selection of former Kulanu minister Avi Gabbay as party chief in 2017, Israel’s Labor party is in danger of losing more than half of its seats in the next Knesset election, falling from 24 mandates to as little as 9 or 10.

The Zionist Union ticket – a joint list of Labor and Hatnua – enjoyed a brief boost in the polls after Gabbay was chosen as party chief last summer.

But despite Gabbay’s moderate tone on core issues including the future of Judea and Samaria and Israeli communities over the Green Line, the party has been hemorrhaging support to former Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid since last December, falling from an average of 20 seats in polls conducted in October, to an average of 10-11 seats in polls conducted in March and April.

One recent poll conducted by Geocartography showed the Zionist Union falling into the single digits, with just nine seats.

A new survey by Panels Politics, however, suggests the party could regain its strength if Gabbay were replaced by former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.

According to the poll, published Sunday by Walla! News, under its present leadership, the Zionist Union would win just 11 seats if new elections were held today.

The Likud would be the largest party in the Knesset, with 29 mandates, easily defeating Yesh Atid, which would win 19.

The predominantly Arab Joint List party and Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party would be tied with 12 seats each.

The haredi United Torah Judaism party would gain two seats, rising to eight mandates, while Shas would lose two mandates, falling to five seats.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu faction would lost 3 of its 10 mandates, falling to seven, while Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party would win six seats. Former Yisrael Beytenu MK Orly Levy would win four seats if she ran on an independent ticket.

The far-left Meretz faction would win seven seats, a gain of two mandates over its 2015 performance, if new elections were held today, the poll showed.

The results would markedly different, however, if the Zionist Union was led by Gantz rather than Gabbay.

The Panels Politics survey shows the Zionist Union winning 24 seats under Gantz, just 4 short of the Likud, which would fall to 28 if Gantz ran against Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Yesh Atid would win just 15 seats in place of 19 if Gantz does not lead the Zionist Union, while the Jewish Home would fall by one mandate, from 12 to 11.

Meretz would win six seats rather than seven in this scenario, while Kulanu would win just five seats, and a new party led by Orly Levy would fail to pass the 3.25% minimum threshold needed to enter the Knesset.

Gantz, who served as Chief of Staff for the IDF until February 2015, will be eligible to run for the Knesset in February 2019. The election for the 21st Knesset is tentatively scheduled for November 2019.

Despite having sparked controversy in 2016 with his comments during Holocaust Memorial Day, Gantz has reportedly been eyed by leaders of the Likud, Yesh Atid, and Labor seeking to recruit him ahead of next year’s election.