JERUSALEM (AP) – In a 10-year political career, Israel’s Yair Lapid has transformed herself from a budding political novice to a feisty opposition leader to the shrewd operator who toppled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Next week, he is expected to take on his biggest role yet – as the new prime minister.
Following the government’s decision to dissolve parliament, Lapid, now foreign minister, will take office as interim prime minister until the fall elections. It will be a critical test for Lapid, 58, who will try to convince Israelis that he is worthy of the highest office as he takes on a resurrected Netanyahu.
“A year ago we started the reconstruction process, and now: we will continue it and continue it together,” Lapid declared late Monday as he stood next to his main coalition partner, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
Officially, the two men announced the end of their one-year reign – an alliance of eight different parties that had been severely weakened by months of infighting and rebellion. But in many ways, Lapid sounded like he was starting his next campaign.
“Even if we go to elections in a few months, the challenges we face will not wait,” he said, pointing to Israel’s high cost of living and the security problems in Gaza, Lebanon and Iran.
In a swipe at Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges, he vowed to “stand up to the forces that threaten to turn Israel into a non-democratic country”. Netanyahu, who believes he is the victim of a political witch hunt, has made it clear that he intends to take on the country’s legal and law enforcement agencies if he returns to power.
A former author, columnist, newscaster, couch pitchman and amateur boxer, Lapid left a successful career as a media personality to enter politics in 2012 as the head of a new center party popular with middle-class Israelis.
He promised economic relief, an end to controversial draft exemptions for seminary students, and a more moderate approach to Palestinians.
Unlike the right-wing parties that dominate Israel’s political system, Lapid favors peace talks leading to an eventual two-state solution with the Palestinians, though it’s unclear whether he will ever be given the kind of mandate necessary to conduct such a process. to participate.
In 2013, he led his new Yesh Atid party to a surprisingly strong performance in the parliamentary elections. Yesh Atid finished as the second largest party, with 19 seats in the 120-member parliament.
Lapid became finance minister, a difficult and often thankless task. Although he had some successes, his key promises to lower the cost of living and lower house prices did not materialize. Netanyahu eventually fired him for insubordination.
Yesh Atid fell to 11 seats in the 2015 election. Lapid found himself in opposition and looked set to become the latest in a long line of centrist politicians to flinch after early success.
But Lapid managed to reinvent himself. He formed an alliance with former army chief Benny Gantz who came close to overthrowing Likud in three consecutive elections.
Those elections, targeting Netanyahu’s divisive personality and aptitude to rule, all ended in a draw. To break the deadlock, Gantz briefly joined forces in 2020 with Netanyahu – leaving Lapid as opposition leader and an outspoken government critic.
When the country went back to the polls in early 2021, Yesh Atid rose again to emerge as the second largest party in parliament. In a battle of creative diplomacy and political acumen, Lapid brought together a new coalition that pushed Netanyahu into opposition for the first time in 12 years.
Although Lapid was the mastermind of the alliance, he confirmed the deal by agreeing to rotate Prime Minister’s job with Bennett – a move seen by many as a selfless and statesman. Lapid assumed the post of Secretary of State.
The coalition members spanned the Israeli political spectrum, but there was little that bound them together except opposition to Netanyahu. The government made history by being the first to include an Arab party.
The coalition got off to a strong start — passing its first national budget in several years, navigating a few coronavirus waves and improving relations with its US and Arab allies.
Ultimately, ideological differences caused it to unravel. Parliament is expected to dissolve in a series of votes in the coming days. Once that happens, Lapid will take over as interim prime minister until the October or November elections.
The coming months will bring great risks and great opportunities. Once again, Netanyahu’s Likud party appears to be leading the way. And again, Netanyahu’s leadership style and legal issues are likely to be highly regarded by voters.
While Lapid will certainly face relentless attacks from Netanyahu, who has attempted to portray him as a lightweight who betrayed Israel’s security by allying with an Arab faction, he will do so from the top of the prime minister’s office. .
After serving as Secretary of State for the past year, he will have even more opportunities to bolster his international reputation. He will receive President Joe Biden on a visit next month and will have the opportunity to speak at the United Nations General Assembly in September.
Lapid spoke with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday to prepare for Biden’s visit, the State Department said.
“The visit will have significant implications for the region and the fight against Iran, as well as huge potential to significantly improve regional stability and security,” it said.
As an interim prime minister, he is unlikely to launch major military operations or bold peace initiatives with the Palestinians. If Lapid can keep things quiet and avoid controversy, he could be well positioned for the next election.
“Lapid must now work on looking like prime minister,” wrote Anshel Pfeffer, columnist for Haaretz daily. “His new position, starting next week, as interim prime minister is his greatest asset in the elections.”