“I am ready to be prime minister of Israel,” Yair Lapid told this reporter in his Knesset office. Seven years later, the centrist leader has the opportunity to prove it, although not under the best circumstances in a country that will go to the polls on November 1 for the fifth time in three and a half years.
After the vote in favor of the dissolution of the Knesset ten days after his partner and predecessor Naftali Bennett accelerated the fall of the Government after losing the parliamentary majority, Lapid becomes the fourteenth prime minister in the history of Israel. The first who was a journalist, presenter, actor and composer and the first who did not come from the right since Ehud Olmert (Kadima) in 2006.
Beyond the enormous responsibility of occupying one of the most complex positions in the world, even if it is in office, and combining it with the role of candidate in the elections, the Foreign Minister assumes the leadership of the Government with mixed feelings.
On the one hand, disappointment because it has not been able to prevent the dismantling of the unprecedented coalition that it sewed a little over a year ago, uniting eight parties from the left, center, right and from the Arab sector. Lapid would have preferred to move to the official Balfour residence in Jerusalem in August 2023 as marked by the rotation pact with Bennett whom he allowed, despite having three times as many seats, to be the first in the head of government.
On the other, satisfaction. At 58 years old, he completes a political project started in 2012 when he left the comfortable and popular chair of a prime-time television presenter to create the liberal Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party as an exponent of the center, moderation and the middle classes.
Since then and after savoring triumphs such as the 19 seats in his first elections (2013), this former amateur boxer has been able to rise from the blows dealt in the political ring dominated in the last decade by his great rival Benjamin Netanyahu. “Yair is above all a fighter who does not give up. He has shown his great worth whether by writing, presenting a television program or as a great political leader,” says the academic and former deputy of his party, Ruth Calderon. .
Lapid will be prime minister until the formation of the new government after the elections. But the position could not be so temporary if the polls are met and neither of the two large blocs reaches the magical figure of 61 of 120 Knesset deputies. And the blocs since 2019 are not divided between the right or the left, but for or against Netanyahu, on trial for alleged corruption.
As premier and surrounded by the head of the Army or the Mossad, Lapid will seek to break down one of the great obstacles in his political career: his limited military experience in a country that still considers security as a crucial element on a day-to-day basis and, ultimately, eventually also at the polls. Likud often ridicule Lapid’s limited service in the pages of the Bamachane Army magazine. Nothing to do with the former members of the elite unit Sayeret Matcal, Netanyahu and Bennett, nor with the former Chief of Staff and Minister of Defense, Benny Gantz.
“The inexperienced journalist from Bamachane cannot govern the most threatened country in the world,” warn his opponents while his followers recall his experience as a member of the mini security cabinet – both in Netanyahu’s coalition (2013-215) and in the current one that Head- Minister of Finance, Leader of the Opposition and, since 2021, Foreign Minister.
Without his charisma, leadership and discipline, Yesh Atid would not be the first party in the coalition (17 seats) nor the second in Israel behind only Likud. Lapid designates the members of his list who, in addition to having been recognized representatives of civil society or former officers of security agencies, are loyal to him. The strength of Yesh Atid contrasts with the weakness of Bennett’s right-wing party, which began the legislature with seven seats and ended with four after three left due to pressure on the right for its unexpected pact with the center-left and the Arab Raam party. In fact, it was what brought down the Government.
Hours after announcing that he will not run in the next election, Bennett met with Lapid once again to hand over the torch (Lapid in Hebrew) and classified material on national security issues. “Thank you Naftali, my brother”, he has tweeted with the images of the change of chair this Thursday in the Knesset. “The country is above each one of us and will continue on the right path,” said Bennett, who defines Lapìd as “a gentleman and a patriot.”
Apart from dealing with the high cost of living that causes great social discontent, Lapid must deal with threats from the north (Hizbullah in Lebanon) and south (Hamas in Gaza), the Palestinian conflict with permanent explosive potential and the great challenge of Israel. : Iran. Either with his armed infrastructure in Syria or especially his nuclear plan in a scenario that ranges from the covert war between the two countries to the possibility of an agreement with the powers after the interruption of negotiations.
As acting prime minister, he will continue his intense diplomatic activity of the last year by further strengthening relations with the US, several Arab countries and the EU while not approving any “risky” move without the green light from security agencies. The centrist leader supports the creation of a Palestinian state – he may meet Palestinian President Abu Mazen – but, like most, he believes a peace deal is impossible today.
And all this in an aggressive electoral campaign in which the rest of the parties in the Government will not make it easy for Lapid since they fear that votes will be taken away from him in his harsh face to face with Netanyahu with whom he shares dominance of the scene and the word. The images with US President Joe Biden, who will land in Israel on July 13, will give him points, although not on the right.
Both his wife Lihi and his mother Shulamit are well-known writers. One of the great flags of Lapid in public life, embodied in a recent law, is related to his autistic daughter Yael. His father, Tommy, who died in 2008, was an outspoken journalist, politician and minister who survived the Holocaust. His grandfather was murdered by the Nazis.
Hence, after the vote in the Knesset, Lapid went to the Yad Vashem Museum that remembers the victims of the Shoah, to declare: “I promised my father that I will always keep Israel strong, capable of defending itself and protecting its children” .
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