The tenure of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be drawing to a close. Certainly, Netanyahu himself is responsible for his political demise. As one commentator put it, “Netanyahu’s downfall is not about events or ideas. It’s about character.” His habitual betrayal and humiliation of allies and his financial scandals, rather than any policy decision, helped end the longest premiership in Israeli history.
However, Netanyahu was not going to vanish on his own. His ouster required an unprecedented coalition ranging from Arab groups to the far-right Yamina. Western media outlets have naturally focused on Naftali Bennett, who will take the first turn as prime minister. However, Yair Lapid, the center-left politician of Yesh Atid, turned out to be more than a TV star (his former profession.)
“Few in the hard-right might have countenanced working with leftist, centrist and Islamist lawmakers without the diplomacy of Mr. Lapid, the linchpin of the coalition negotiation,” the New York Times reports. “While Mr. Bennett will be the formal leader of the coalition, it could not have been formed without Mr. Lapid, who has spent months cajoling its various incompatible components toward an alliance.” Given his willingness to compromise, even to allow Bennett (whose party won about one-third of the seats Lapid’s drew), allowed ideological combatants to come together.
Democratic Majority for Israel put out a statement last week heralding the formation of a new government. “We note that this government will not only be expansive, including parties representing the left, right, and center of Israeli politics, it will also be inclusive, with Arabs, women, and Jews of color holding key positions. We congratulate Yair Lapid and his colleagues for achieving what many considered impossible: bringing together a broad spectrum of Israeli society to create a new unity government.”
You can sense the excitement that the days of an Israeli prime minister hyper-politicizing his country’s relationship with the United States and, even more cringeworthy, touting evangelical Christians as more reliable defenders than the Jewish diaspora may be coming to a close.
Public statements from the members of the new Israeli government also suggest that disputes over Iran will be managed behind closed doors. The current defense minister, Benny Gantz, made clear to his U.S. counterpart that the Israelis “will continue this important strategic dialogue in private discussion . . . only, not in the media in a provoking way” — a not-too-subtle shot at Netanyahu.
Many observers in Israel and elsewhere remain skeptical that such a broad-based coalition with serious conflicts about settlements, a two-state solution and more can survive very long. However, perhaps in focusing on issues that the coalition partners have in common — infrastructure and economic policy (very much in sync with the U.S. president’s agenda) — and not making the conflict with the Palestinians any worse Israel can return to a more functional democracy. If so, it will be in large part do to the persistence and skill of Lapid.
For prioritizing a functional democracy and finding common ground with his coalition partners, we can say, well done, Mr. Lapid.