Lapid could help form new Netanyahu coalition, experts say

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Yair Lapid, the former TV star turned centrist political star in Israel, captured 19 seats for his Yesh Atid list in yesterday’s election, and though Lapid is seen as favoring negotiations with Palestinians, three experts on Israeli politics suggest that he could end up forming a government with Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister.

Yousef Munayyer asked yesterday, “Could we speculate perhaps that the coalition that might be formed might involve Netanyahu at the center” — a coalition with Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home on the right and Yair Lapid’s burgeoning Yesh Atid party on the left– and Munayyer continued, what would be the consequences for Palestinians? Yoram Meital of Ben Gurion University said that such a coalition would be against any model of a two-state solution, as Netanyahu regards a Palestinian state as disastrous for Israeli security, and his Bar-Ilan speech of four years ago was merely lip service to international opinion.

Dimi Reider also says that such a coalition could be formed, with the telegenic Lapid as the new international face of Israel:

Theoretically (or rather, purely arithmetically), Lapid is now in a position to make a bold bid for premiership. Although earlier attempts to herd the centre-leftist cats into a unified bloc ahead of the elections failed miserably, the tantalisingly small gap between the Left and Right in the exit polls could give Lapid enough of a momentum – to hammer together a centre-left government of small parties, to persuade Shas to switch sides (by reminding them they’d hold much more sway in such a fractured coalition than in a strong right-wing one), and to solicit the external support of Arab parties (among which Hadash is usually lumped), eventually creating something akin to Rabin’s government in 1992. But, to the tune of “you are no Jack Kennedy,” Lapid is no Rabin, and 2013 is not 1993. Lapid is risk-averse and lacks a political program or vision; while the negotiated two-state process, a novel idea in Rabin’s time, has been tested and failed in the 21 years since. What’s more, hostility towards the Arab parties is immeasurably greater than it was in the 1990s. Any party overpowering the Right with these parties’ support will be seen as an usurper. Lapid may well launch a bid for premiership – but this is likely to be a negotiation ploy designed to mark him as not just a coalition member, but a partner in a “national unity” government, a title with considerably more clout and gravitas.

The more likely outcome, then, is a strong right-wing government with Lapid’s party as its safety belt and fig leaf. In such a scenario, Lapid can look forward to appointment as foreign minister, which would reward him with prestige and the limelight he is long accustomed to, and would reward Netanyahu with a telegenic, charismatic and unoriginal moderate face in the world arena.  

The Israel Project agrees, and provides cover to this potential centrist bloc on international opinion:

There is minimal distance between Likud-Beitenu and Yesh Atid on critical issues. Both parties share a foreign policy emphasizing the need for a two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, tempered with skepticism regarding Palestinian willingness to make and abide by negotiated agreements. Domestically, both parties are committed to pursuing liberal economic policies.

On the other hand, J Street sees the election results as a big move to the left. Two of Jeremy Ben-Ami’s tweets:

Latest numbers show 60-60 left, right. Israel at fundamental fork in the road and people divided down the middle. Amazing.

[Earlier] Exit polls in Israel fascinating. 61-59 right/left. Remember: results could differ. Either way overall move seems to the left, not right.

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