Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on November 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

For Lapid, a battle against the odds to thwart Netanyahu’s comeback

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Provided that Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid can bring about the demise of their government more efficiently than they have kept it together, the Knesset will hold its final readings next week. legislation to dissolve itself and hold new elections for this fall — marking the fifth time the Israeli electorate has been dragged to the polls since April 2019.

snap surveys published Tuesday evening on Israel’s three main television channels, ostensibly showed that, as on previous occasions, the five elections will meet the definition of insanity attributed (dubiously) to Albert Einstein: doing the same thing over and over and doing different things. expect results.

From 2019 to 2021, the Israeli public has four times elected a Knesset from which a stable, long-lasting and fully functional governing coalition has emerged. And Tuesday night’s polls were generally presented as showing that the current Knesset “blocs” — the eight parties in the outgoing Bennett-Lapid coalition and the four parties in the Benjamin Netanyahu-led opposition — are once again “at a standstill.” without being able to muster a Knesset majority, and the Joint List, a mainly Arab alliance, which maintains the balance of power between them.

Lazy or intentional, this is a misreading of the electorate’s preferences. In fact, what all three studies showed is a surge in support for the Netanyahu-led bloc — which makes up Likud, the burgeoning far-right party for Religious Zionism, and the parties Shas and United Torah Judaism. In the elections of March 2021, those four parties together won 52 seats. Sixteen months later, they came out of the three TV polls at 59-60 seats – to the point of a Knesset majority.

Furthermore, it is by no means clear that Bennett’s Yamina should automatically be counted in the anti-Netanyahu bloc. Bennett himself did not rule out sitting with Netanyahu last year; on the contrary, he publicly signed a promise not to serve in a government led by Lapid and dependent on the support of Mansour Abbas’s Ra’am party two days before the elections. Even two weeks later, after the results came in, explained that “the will of the people” was for “the establishment of a stable right-wing, nationalist government.”

Bennett may or may not lead Yamina to the next election. His old ally Ayelet Shaked could do that. Whoever runs it may want to maintain a degree of ambiguity about its favored coalition partners to maximize its waning appeal. (Yamina polls at a weak 4-5 seats, barely above the Knesset threshold, with a potential risk of extinction.) Anyway, while New Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar, Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman, and Blue and White’s Benny Gantz all have this After making it public last week that they will continue to oppose Netanyahu’s return as prime minister, nothing similarly definitive can be said of Yamina.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz seen in the Knesset on June 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As the pundits talk of an ongoing deadlock, therefore, Netanyahu’s delighted expectation to be on his way back to the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem after Bennett’s hugely irritating hiatus is understandable – and the latest polls will not give that confidence. have affected.

But while Bennett has chosen never to make his home on Balfour Street, at least one more prime minister will live there for the next few months: Interim Prime Minister Lapid. He will hold the reins, under a Bennett-approved coalition agreement, from the Knesset’s dissolution, through elections, and until a new governing coalition is sworn in.

Lapid is now a ten-year-old veteran politician, conciliatory and quietly effective. It was he who assembled the country’s most unlikely coalition, and his own 17-member Yesh Atid party (rising in the polls) has remained unwaveringly loyal to him and her (unlike Bennett’s fractured Yamina).

Lapid has twice set aside his ambitions as prime minister — teaming up with Gantz in 2019 (who broke their alliance in 2020 to form a predictably ill-fated coalition alliance with Netanyahu), and bringing Bennett to power last year. . He stopped his own speech during the raw Knesset session last June when Bennett was sworn in to lead the government he painstakingly assembled. He barely spoke on Monday when Bennett announced his downfall.

Now Lapid is about to live his moment and take up the challenge of turning a short premiership into a long and substantial one.

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) smiles pending a preliminary vote to dissolve the Knesset before new elections, June 22, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Netanyahu will gleefully try to discredit Lapid as a lightweight and, as he did with Bennett, as a threat to Israel’s security. He will try to blot Lapid as the proven partner of Ra’am, who repeatedly demonizes the former prime minister as a supporter of terrorism, even though he also tried to forge an alliance with it. He will argue that Lapid’s only path to election victory lies in co-opting the even more unsavory Joint List.

Lapid will oppose his and Bennett’s coalition trying to restore respect and harmony in Israeli politics; that it worked to heal the economy, tackle terrorism and maintain warm ties with the US while deepening the partnership to thwart Iran. Which, unlike Netanyahu, put the national interest above the personal.

While Lapid should be proud of the outgoing coalition’s achievements, Netanyahu will portray its failure as a debacle. As enraged as he and Bennett are at Netanyahu’s relentless pressure on his members, the fact is that Netanyahu succeeded — that Yamina fell apart and the unreliability of other coalition members hastened its demise.

Lapid is naturally understated and will have to wage a bold campaign if he is to thwart Netanyahu’s comeback. He will have to explain credibly why he and his allies view Netanyahu as a real threat to Israeli democracy. He will have to emphasize that Netanyahu is the man who made Itamar Ben Gvir and his incendiary anti-Arab pyromania mainstream, and that a Netanyahu government will be toxic with Ben Gvir’s extremism. He will effectively have to debate Netanyahu one-on-one, or show that Netanyahu is unwilling to face him.

He will have to maximize the fact of his established position; this will be the first time in five that Netanyahu has run for opposition prime minister. As interim prime minister, Lapid will host high-profile visitors starting next month with US President Joe Biden, be able to make resonant foreign trips and strive for warm relationships with other regional players.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks at a conference hosted by the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem on June 21, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He will have about four months in a transitional position to establish his credibility as permanent prime minister – demonstrating that a leader can be both competent and magnanimous, determined and empathetic, and that he is committed to the internal unity of the country and to a fierce defenses against his enemies are not mutually exclusive.

Four months and multiple restrictions on what he can do as interim prime minister.

Four months to roll back what the polls really show.

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