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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 March 2019

Benjamin Netanyahu's main rival pulls ahead in polls for the first time

The new data comes after Israel's attorney general recommended intent to indict the Israeli leader

Benny Gantz, head of Resilience Party, is seen after a news conference, in Tel Aviv, Israel February 21, 2019. Reuters
Benny Gantz, head of Resilience Party, is seen after a news conference, in Tel Aviv, Israel February 21, 2019. Reuters

Benny Gantz, the man hoping to unseat Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the country’s early election next month, has taken a lead over the political stalwart for the first time in polls.

The survey, published by Israel’s Kan public broadcaster on Saturday, showed the former general of the Israeli military leading over the prime minister with 41 per cent of respondents picking him to Mr Netanyahu’s 40 per cent. Those asked were approached for their views on who would be the most suitable to be Israel’s next premier.

Mr Gantz, who leads the Resilience Party, has run his election campaign on a centrist platform and has joined forces with fellow centre-ground politician Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party to form what they called the Blue and White Alliance.

Mr Netanyahu has found himself behind in the polls in previous votes but has survived four terms as prime minister. But, in searching for his fifth, he has encountered new legal woes. Israel’s attorney general announced last week that he was intending to indict the Israeli leader in three separate corruption cases, for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

He denies any wrongdoing but the indictment, for which he will face a hearing after the election, is expected to damage his appeal to voters who traditionally vote for him.

Mr Gantz is trying to attract voters away from Mr Netanyahu but to those outside of Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories, it appears that he will bring little in policy change to the decades-long conflict. He led the Israeli military during the 2014 Gaza war, in which more than 2,000 Palestinians were killed in a deadly Israeli invasion of the enclave for what it said was to destroy Hamas’ tunnel network and to prevent rocket fire into Israeli territory.

But the planned indictment of Mr Netanyahu may now give Mr Gantz the edge in the poll long viewed as a referendum on the Israeli leader’s ability to continue to run the country.

Responding to the announcement on Thursday, Mr Netanyahu called the charges an “unprecedented” political witch-hunt and blamed it on the country’s left-wing and its media.

Updated: March 3, 2019 12:56 PM

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