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Polls show Israel's Netanyahu gaining popularity

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in his office in Jerusalem February 7, 2010. REUTERS/Uriel Sinai/Pool

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party has gained popularity in the year since his election, according to polls, largely thanks to a period of calm and quick recovery from global economic crisis.

Opinion polls in two major newspapers predicted Netanyahu’s Likud party, which heads Israel’s governing coalition, would increase its representation in parliament significantly were a vote to take place today.

The poll, published on the website of Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, showed Likud would take 32 seats, compared with the 27 it holds now, in the 120-member parliament. Last week, a survey in the Haaretz daily forecast a 30 percent jump for Likud, to 35 seats.

Both newspapers showed centrist opposition party Kadima, led by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and knocked out of power last year, would lose two of its 28 seats.

Although Kadima edged past Likud in the 2008 election, a strong showing by right-wing parties enabled Netanyahu to put together a coalition government.

The Yedioth survey said Netanyahu’s security and economic policy had helped to boost his popularity among Israelis. But the poll showed a measure of dissatisfaction over a stalemate in peace efforts with the Palestinians.

Israeli leaders have hailed 2009, which began with a three-week war in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, as the quietest year in more than a decade, with cross-border rocket fire into Israel and attacks on civilians at a relative low.

Israel was one of the first countries to emerge from the global financial crisis. Analysts attributed the quick Israeli recovery to a stable banking system and swift central bank intervention.

Writing by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Ralph Boulton