Yair Lapid, the leader of the Yesh Atid party that placed second in Israeli elections on Tuesday, following the poll said: “Israelis have said ‘No’ to a politics of fear and hatred, ‘No’ to splitting into tribes or groups divided by interest, ‘No’ to extremism and an anti-democracy.”
The centrist There’s a Future party aspires to a powerful new role as a senior partner in the next coalition and tie-breaker in a 120-seat parliament split roughly down the middle between right and left.
One celebrating party enthusiast said here was: “…the proof that in Israel the true heart of the country is in the centre, that we do believe in peace and the middle class also want a change in the social dynamics.”
Another said: “It’s not a fragmented society. The path that Yair Lapid walks is a path of unity. He knows how to sell a dream and we follow this dream.”
The 49-year-old Lapid only took up active politics a few months ago but since he is a former television news presenter, a lot of Israelis already know what he looks like.
His father was a cabinet minister. Now the son is promising younger and middle-class voters change.
He has also vowed to press any Netanyahu-led cabinet to renew talks with the Palestinians, calling it “irresponsible” to have had such a long hiatus in negotiations, which collapsed in 2010 over the issue of Jewish settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank.
Lapid said: “If the prime minister really wanted to negotiate and felt that there was people to negotiate with, he would have. If an Israeli prime minister wants to go to the negotiating table, he will sit at the negotiating table. This is part of what I’m going to do, try and make the next government do this, because it’s so essential to my mind.”
Lapid has pledged to abolish army conscription exemptions for the influential ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.
“I will not sit as the fig leaf of ultra-Orthodox extreme rightist government. This should be a more moderate government, in order for me to join.”
Lapid’s secular party includes a variety of public figures, including moderate rabbis, mayors, an ex-head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service and a fellow journalist.
We spoke to political analyst Abraham Diskin to ask what new combinations might play out.
Nial O’Reilly, euronews:
“So, Benjamin Netanyahu is set to continue as prime minister but with a drop in support. What kind of message have the electorate sent him?
“Netanyahu made national security and particularly Iran a major issue. But the polls would suggest voters are more concerned with economic issues. Has he misinterpreted the mood in the country – will he have now to rethink his policy priorities?”
Abraham Diskin, political analyst, Hebrew University of Jerusalem:
“No, I don’t think so. For most of the public, the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Iranian threat comes first, and I think what we had here is a very bad tactical move of a merger between Netanyahu’s party and the party of Lieberman, our former foreign minister; and I think that deterred voters from all electoral fronts and specially it deterred voters on the centre.”
“So, in that case, do you think he will be rethinking his potential government partners when he comes to the business of building a coalition in the coming days and weeks?”
“I believe that he is very much interested in any case, and even if he was more successful, to have a cooperation of centrists parties. Now it is quite clear that this centrist party is actually the most convenient for him. It’s a new party led by a former journalist, Yair Lapid – the There’s a Future party – that is the translation of the name of that party into English; but these two parties together, the Likud and this new party in the centre don’t have a majority.
“It would be very difficult to have other centrist parties or even left wing parties. So Netanyahu and Lapid will have to decide whether they would like to have one of the two larger parties on the right wing bloc, so it could be either a more hawkish party, compared to Likud, or a relatively moderate religious party, but nevertheless ultraorthodox.”
“How do you think the White House will interpret this result? Will it influence the course of US-Israeli relations, which haven’t been the strongest during Obama presidency?”
“I think very highly of Obama and I think his values should be respected, but unfortunately I think the present administration made every mistake possible, I think, interpreting developments in the Middle East.
“We saw that during the Arab Spring. We saw that all over the place, and I think that, also, they have this misunderstanding about the core of the problem in the conflict between us and the Palestinians in particular, and the Arab nations in general. So I think there is a lot of misinterpretation. I think they can definitely promote peace. I think they have to pressure Israel, but they have also to realise where the real problem is. The real problem is not in Israel, it’s not in the Israeli government: it’s on the Palestinian side.”