Israel Poised to Extend Deadlock With Netanyahu in Tight Race

(Bloomberg) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is slightly ahead of challenger Benny Gantz in a last batch of polls before an unprecedented third election in less than a year, though neither man is forecast to have enough support to form a government and end the country’s political gridlock.

Netanyahu’s Likud party is expected to win between 33 and 35 of parliament’s 120 seats in the March 2 vote, just ahead of Gantz’s Blue and White bloc in three of five opinion surveys published since Thursday. The two others have them tied.

A Likud-led nationalist and religious bloc would command between 57 and 59 seats, while the opposing side would have 55 to 56, both short of a parliamentary majority that would crown a winner in this contest. Friday is the final day polls can be released.

Israel has been paralyzed politically since Netanyahu called early elections in December 2018 and set in motion a pair of back-to-back votes that ended in deadlock. The third round of balloting is coming close on the heels of his indictment on bribery and fraud charges, and his trial in three influence-peddling cases is scheduled to begin March 17.

Each of the elections has been a referendum on Netanyahu and his historically long reign, especially in the shadow of his legal woes. The Israeli premier says he alone has the experience necessary to guide Israel as it faces mounting security challenges from Iran and its proxies, and prepares to navigate the Trump administration’s recently released Middle East peace plan. Gantz argues that Netanyahu is morally unfit for office and that it’s time for a new political era.

Until last week, polls showed Blue and White consistently in the lead. But having failed to receive a boost from the pro-Israel Trump blueprint, Netanyahu pivoted to more populist issues, like pitching a plan to lower the cost of living. He’s also unleashed below-the-belt attacks on Gantz, questioning his stability, and gone on a campaign tear, appearing at multiple events each day.

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