New Israeli PM Lapid faces series of challenges
With the naming of Yair Lapid as Israel’s latest prime minister last week, the recent rapid succession of Israeli leaders continues to provide great political drama, reflecting the country’s endless struggle to find a stable system of government. Whether the new prime minister is qualified to lead Israel for a long time remains to be seen. But he has certainly had an interesting career.
Lapid is a former journalist and television news anchorman. He previously served as alternate prime minister and minister of foreign affairs in the recently disbanded Naftali Bennett government. He was also leader of the opposition from 2020 to 2021 and minister of finance from 2013 to 2014. He will stay as prime minister until a new government is formed following the Knesset elections in November.
Significantly, in April 2012, he established his party, Yesh Atid, whose name translates as “There is a future.” It aims to represent what it considers to be the majority of Israelis — the secular middle class. Its political philosophy is one of centrist politics and an affirmation of the principles of liberalism. It has promised to abolish the military service exemption for ultra-Orthodox Jews and to promote educational reform, especially to help students who failed to graduate from high school.
Yesh Atid garnered 17 seats in the 2021 election, making it the second-largest party in the Knesset. It went on to become the biggest party in Israel’s most recent governing coalition. Lapid’s father also had careers in both politics and journalism. Tomislav Lampel was the leader of the secular-liberal Shinui party from 1999 to 2006. He was opposed to the ultra-Orthodox political parties.
Lapid wrote a biography of his father titled “Memories After My Death.” In it, he wrote: “I disappointed Menachem Begin, and I had a complex father-son relationship with Ariel Sharon, I shouted at Ehud Barack, Benjamin Netanyahu claims to this very day that without me he would not have been able to carry out the financial revolution that saved the country, and Ehud Olmert — one of my two best friends in the world — sat at my bedside and watched me die. Watched and bawled.”
He will sharpen his focus on Iran, but this is a huge task because he may be working against the political will of the Biden administration.
Can the new prime minister oversee the transition from a dissolved legislative assembly to a solid centrist government? The answer depends on many factors. He will sharpen his focus on Iran, but this is a huge task because he may be working against the political will of the Biden administration, which may eventually opt to sign a deal with Tehran over its nuclear program.
In addition, while he promised reform and to fight corruption, he has not given any details on how he will accomplish these goals, other than a promise to bar corrupt people from holding public office. Moreover, he tries to embody the “third way” in politics. This means that centrist politicians govern nations based on free-market economic ideas from the right and progressive social justice concepts from the left.
The conditions Lapid will operate in could limit his role a great deal. But he will continue the effort to preserve relations with the Arab countries that recently recognized Israel.
In his first statement as head of Israel’s caretaker government, he said: “The IDF will continue fighting terror whenever and wherever necessary.” He also said that he would be moving into a Jerusalem home classified as an absentee property. This label applies to any property whose original Arab occupants escaped during the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. This move is because the office of the prime minister is currently being remodeled.
Lapid may opt for a “wide council” of political consultations. Through this, he will be able to deliberate on many issues with the political leaders who are contesting the election. This should enhance his political stature and may mean he can explore a more threatening line against Iran.
It is the historical circumstances that could make Lapid’s prime ministership truly important. He could face a series of challenges, especially if US President Joe Biden tells him during his upcoming visit to the Middle East that he should work hard to improve his relationship with the Palestinians. He will do so, but he will associate this with the need to make Iran enemy No. 1 for America in the region.
• Maria Maalouf is a Lebanese journalist, broadcaster, publisher and writer. She has a master’s degree in political sociology from the University of Lyon. Twitter: @bilarakib