Yair Lapid: The Blazing Maestro Behind Israel’s Governing Coalition

  • Lapid ousts Netanyahu with an eight party coalition.
  • The Bennett-Lapid coalition is divided on many issues.
  • He aims to prevent Netanyahu’s return.
Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid delivers a speech following the announcement of exit polls in Israel's general election at his party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel March 24, 2021. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo
Yair Lapid / REUTERS / Amir Cohen

Why is Lapid’s heat level BLAZING right now?

Answer: Yair Lapid was able to broker an eight party coalition that ended long standing Netanyahu’s term in office.

On sunday, the 13th of June 2021, Naftali Bennett replaced incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister. The news came after a successful vote of confidence in an eight party coalition with Bennett’s far right Yamina party filling seven of the 120 seats in the Knesset. Although Bennett is the current Prime Minister in a power sharing agreement with Yair Lapid of the centre party Yesh Atid, he was the architect behind creating the broadest coalition in Israeli politics, galvanizing behind an anti-Netanyahu front. And so, prime minister of 12 years, Netanyahu has moved from the incumbent to the opposition seat in Parliament, ending three years of political deadlock in the country.

Netanyahu’s failure to form a government following the March 2021 elections left the job to runner-up Lapid and his Yesh Atid party. He is rightfully commended for being able to bring an array of ideologies to the same table in such a politically polarizing environment. Most notably getting the far right Yamina party to agree on a coalition with Mansour Abbas’s Arab Ra’am party in light of the recent violence in Gaza.

After a momentary withdrawal of Naftali Bennett, Lapid was able to close him by offering the first round of Prime Minister in the power sharing government. This is a strong indication of his willingness to put aside his personal goals and aspirations for a bigger goal of granting the Israeli people a government without Netanyahu.

 Lapid is widely seen as the one who brought Netanyahu to his knees through his exemplary negotiating skills in rallying up the left wing, the far right and the first independent Arab party in one governing coalition, making history. Called the “coalition of firsts,” Lapid’s government marks an historical feat by having the largest composition of women in the cabinet and the first Arab party being king maker as opposed to an orthodox one. Out of the 27 ministers, nine are women, holding ministerial positions in the education, interior, transportation, environmental and integration ministries. 

Due to the ideological broadness of this coalition, as a means to maintain the political validity of the government and prevent infighting, both Prime Minister Bennett and Finance Minister Lapid have come out to state the government will only focus on policies and issues the coalition have in common. Therefore, the current agenda for the newly sworn in government will focus on the economy, the pandemic and passing the first budget, leading the country out of its crisis status. Big legislation is out of the question for now, however discussions of contentious topics such as the Palestinian question and sanctions on Iran are ongoing.

The first challenge this coalition and Lapid face is passing the first budget the country will see in two years. It is a race against the clock for the newly elected government, vowing to approve a two year budget in 140 days from being sworn in, marking a shift from Netanyahu’s month to month budget approval. A failure to do so would result in yet another election, sending the country to its fifth in just two years. 

Who is changing Lapid’s level?

Answer: In a country with increasing internal divisions, Lapid crafted a favorable political position for himself by uniting different ideological parties under the goal of defeating Netanyahu.

Lapid has moved from hot to blazing following his party’s ability to ascertain 17 seats in the Knesset in the March 2021 elections. Since then, in a failed attempt by Netanyahu to form a government, the task was passed to Yair’s party, Yesh Atid, in an increasingly divided Israel. 

 In this environment, Lapid has managed to rally up a substantial bloc against incumbent Netanyahu in order to lead the country out of the crisis status it has endured since 2018. Lapid was able to exploit this opportunity by leaning on the increasing dissatisfaction towards Netanyahu from within the political arena and by positioning himself as the protector of liberal democracy and an alternative to Netanyahu’s old form of governance. Netanyahu has been charged with allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust and has, as a result, lost substantial credit with opposition parties, making it almost impossible to form a government for the past three years.

Lapid is playing a strategic game. As the architect of this coalition agreement, he has been able to shape the terms to his benefit. Although ceding the prime minister seat to Bennett first may seem like a loss on Lapid’s part, it is actually likely to play in his favor. His two year stint as foreign minister could strengthen his political position and increase his international impact. Focused on revamping Israel’s international standing following its deterioration by Netanyahu, Lapid has the chance to reignite slowing US relations and to retell the Israeli story especially when it comes to military expenditure and Palestine.

By including a veto power within the terms of the coalition, Lapid has ensured that for the next two years he has the ability to override the most important initiatives of Bennett and push for his own agenda given the vast differences between them. 

Even if the coalition fails and it sets off another election, Lapid will find himself in a position of enhanced likeability and electability while Bennett is likely to find himself isolated from Netanyahu’s hard right wing supporters in allegations of betrayal in favor of an Arab party. On the other hand, if the coalition lasts and everything runs smoothly in the power sharing agreement, then in two years Lapid will find himself sitting in the chair dominated for so long by Netanyahu and simply warmed by Bennett. In the end, Lapid is coming out stronger than ever and as Israel’s top dog, which can set him up later to the path of becoming prime minister in the next elections.

What is driving Lapid?

Answer: Driven by his anti-Netanyahu stance, Lapid aims to rebuild the political environment tainted by Netanyahu and strives for prime ministry. 

Lapid, a center-moderate politician, came out in the March 2021 elections at the top of his game. Given the opportunity to form a government, ending Netanyahu’s rule was Lapid’s first priority, as he states “for it, I am willing to give up a great many things, including my personal aspirations.” This is because, for him, Netanyahu is to blame for the political fragmentation and division within the country.

The desire to depose Netanyahu and to take the country out of crisis is the main driving factor for Lapid. A crisis brought on by the onset of a prime minister characterised by indictment charges, a flagrant breach of the integrity of the judicial system and the demonization of opposition. Lapid’s antagonism towards Netanyahu’s prime ministry had driven Lapid to start a career in politics and strive to become prime minister.

Lapid is not an ideologue. His ability to bridge the right and left wing in the early years of his career was widely viewed as a lack of ideological backbone, but following the recent parliamentary elections, it has become celebrated. What he does represent is a new brand of centrism as opposed to the left leaning norm that previously characterized center parties in Israel. His political party, Yesh Atid, meaning “there is a future, emerged in the middle of Netanyahu’s term as prime minister and aimed to create a different path for Israel. Until today Lapid strives to usher the country away from the status quo under Netanyahu towards something that actually works. 

What does this mean for you?

Answer: We should see Lapid and the governing coalition doing everything in their power to prevent the revival of Netanyahu. 

The Lapid-driven coalition is the broadest the country has seen. With eight political parties, Lapid has made history but it comes with its costs in governance. The biggest threat to the governing coalition is the governing coalition itself. The broadest coalition agreement has the potential of becoming the most unstable government due to issues of political misalignment potentially resulting in paralysis in policy making and implicating the new government to consensus actions only. According to public opinion polls, a large portion of the Israeli population do not expect this coalition to last.

With Netanyahu’s continued presence in the Knesset and on the political scene, the leader of the largest opposition party holding the most seats in parliament is betting on the failure of this governing coalition to take up his place in office once more. Netanyahu is far from rolling over and admitting defeat. Netanyahu will do what it takes to crumble the Bennett-Lapid coalition by exploiting the vast ideological differences and de-legitimizing the face of the architect.

Therefore, given the political instability of this governing coalition, Lapid has to ensure that even if it does fail, Netanyahu is not a viable option for voters. Thus, to ensure that Israel does not see the return of Netanyahu, Lapid is pushing to pass a legislation in the Knesset that will limit the terms of prime minister to two, with a four year cooling down period, and eliminate the possibility for an indicted prime minister to run for office again. This would systematically exclude Netanyahu, making Lapid the most attractive candidate due to his recent political achievements. 

This governing coalition may succeed in buying time for Netanyahu to go through court. Denying any wrongdoing up until now, Netanyahu is the subject of an open corruption trial. For Lapid, balancing the differences in the majority government will be challenging, yet it will be worth it to see the end of Netanyahu’s grasp on the political arena in Israel. Therefore, focusing on what unites instead of divides them should be of utmost importance for the eight party governing coalition.

Arielle Combrinck

Research & Analysis Member