Lapid to be Israel’s next prime minister, facing serious test

JERUSALEM (AP) — In a political career spanning 10 years, Israel’s Yair Lapid has transformed himself from a new political novice to a fervent opposition leader, to the knowledgeable operative who toppled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Is.

Next week, he is expected to play his biggest role to date – as the new prime minister.

Following the government’s decision to dissolve parliament, Lapid, who is now foreign minister, is set to take over as acting prime minister until elections in the fall. It will be a crucial test for the 58-year-old Lapid, who will try to convince the Israelis he deserves the top post as he takes on a resurgent Netanyahu.

“A year ago, we started the rebuilding process, and now: we’re taking it forward, and taking it together,” Lapid announced late Monday as he talks to his main coalition partner, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. stood with.

Officially, the two men were declaring the end of their years-old government – ​​a coalition of eight diverse parties that had been severely weakened by months of infiltration and rebellion. But in many ways, Lapid looked like he was launching his next campaign.

Pointing to Israel’s high cost of living and security challenges in Gaza, Lebanon and Iran, he said, “Even if we go to elections in a few months, the challenges we face are Well, they won’t wait.”

Taking a dig at Netanyahu, who is currently on trial for corruption charges, he vowed to “stand up against forces threatening to turn Israel into a non-democratic country”. Netanyahu, believing he is the victim of a political witch hunt, has made clear that he intends to take over the country’s legal and law-enforcement establishment if he returns to power.

A former writer, columnist, news anchor, bank pitchman and amateur boxer, Lapid left a successful career as a media personality to enter politics in 2012 as the head of a new centrist party popular with middle-class Israelis. was in the form.

He promised economic relief, an end to controversial draft exemptions for seminary students, and a more liberal approach for Palestinians.

Unlike the right-wing parties that dominate Israel’s political system, Lapid supports peace talks, which could lead to a two-state solution with the Palestinians, although it is unclear whether it has the right to engage in such a process. necessary mandate.

In 2013, he led his new Yash Ateed party to a surprisingly strong performance in the parliamentary elections. Yash 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. Marking some successes, his key promises of reducing the cost of living and lowering housing prices did not materialise. Netanyahu eventually fired him for disobedience.

Yash Atid fell to 11 seats in the 2015 elections. Lapid found himself in opposition and after initial success was on his way to becoming the latest in a long line of centrist politicians.

But Lapid managed to rebuild himself. He formed an alliance with former military chief Benny Gantz that came close to toppling Likud in three consecutive elections.

Those elections, focused on Netanyahu’s divisive personality and fitness to govern, all ended inconclusive. Moving to end the impasse, Gantz joined forces with Netanyahu in 2020 – leaving Lapid as the opposition leader and an outspoken government critic.

When the country went to the polls in early 2021, Yash Atid rose once again and emerged as the second largest party in parliament. In a stroke of constructive diplomacy and political understanding, Lapid forged a new coalition that pushed Netanyahu into the opposition for the first time in 12 years.

Although Lapid was the coalition’s mastermind, he cemented the deal by agreeing to rotate the job of prime minister with Bennett – a move that was seen by many as selfless and politician. Lapid took over as foreign minister.

Coalition members span Israel’s political spectrum, binding them together little beyond Netanyahu’s opposition. The government first created history by including an Arab party.

The coalition got off to a strong start – passing the first national budget in as many years, navigating a pair of coronavirus waves and improving relations with US and Arab allies.

Ultimately, ideological differences settled it. It is expected that in the coming days, Parliament will dissolve itself with a number of votes. Once this happens, Lapid will take over as acting prime minister until elections in October or November.

The coming months present great risks – and great opportunities. Once again Netanyahu’s Likud party is leading. And once again, Netanyahu’s leadership style and legal woes are likely to dominate voters’ minds.

While Lapid will face relentless attacks from Netanyahu, who has tried to portray him as a mild man who has betrayed Israel’s security by colluding with an Arab faction, he will do so from the prime minister’s office.

After serving as foreign minister for the past one year, he will have more opportunities to strengthen his international position. He is set to visit President Joe Biden next month and will have the opportunity to speak at the UN General Assembly in September.

The State Department said Lapid spoke with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday to prepare for Biden’s visit.

“The visit holds immense potential for significant improvements in the region and the fight against Iran, as well as for regional stability and security,” the statement said.

As caretaker prime minister, he is unlikely to launch any major military campaigns or bold peace initiatives with the Palestinians. If the Lapid can keep things calm and avoid controversy, he may be in a good position for the next election.

“Lapid now has to work looking for a prime ministership,” wrote Anschel Pfeiffer, a columnist for the Haaretz daily. “His new position as interim prime minister from next week is his biggest asset going to the polls.”

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