Yair Lapid and the future of Yesh Atid
Article added on January 28, 2013 at 15:41 Swiss time
Before the January 2013-parliamentary election, Israel seemed on the road
towards more radicalism. The rise of Naftali Bennett (*1972) and his Jewish
Home party worried - for good reasons - many commentators. At the same time,
the Kadima party was said to explode.
In the end, with a voter turnout of 67.8%, Kadima exploded as predicted.
When Shaul Mofaz decided to
join the Netanyahu government in May 2012,
I wrote that the Kadima leader may have to pay a price for his
vanity to join the government. Shaul Mofaz simply had no backbone. The
“amour fou” was short-lived. In July 2012
Kadima left the coalition, without regaining
its credibility. In the January 2013 legislative election, only 2 of
Kadima's 28 seats from 2009 could be kept. The largest political faction in
the 18th Knesset was reduced to the smallest in the 19th!
The former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, who had left Shaul Mofaz to form her
own party, Hatnuah, managed to win 6 seats in the 19th Knesset. Livni
represents one of the more moderate forces which counterbalance the rise of
Naftali Bennett. The Jewish Home leader, who simply opposes the creation of
a Palestinian State,
“only” managed to win 12 seats in the newly elected parliament, about
one-third less than expected.
For this election,
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor
Lieberman joined forces. But their Likud Yisrael Beiteinu alliance lost 11
of their 42 combined seats from the
2009 election, leaving them
with only 31 seats in parliament. With 61 out of 120 Knesset seats, the
current coalition government still has a majority. Despite this fact, Prime
Minister Netanyahu announced that he wants to broaden the ruling coalition.
The real winner of the January 2013 election - with 19 seats - is Yair Lapid
(*1963). The creator and leader of Yesh Atid (There Is A Future) is a
secular Jew who wants the Ultra-Orthodox as well as the Palestinians to
serve either in the military or in a special civil service, as does the rest
of the Israeli population.
Yair Lapid wants Israelis to be able to live in affordable houses. He wants
Israeli to pay less for gasoline and electricity. Prices for many common
goods, including milk, are higher in Israel than in Europe. Yair Lapid and
Yesh Atid are among the vocal advocates of the social protesters who flooded
Israel's streets in 2011. Will Yair Lapid be able to deliver better housing
policies, to improve conditions for small businesses, to establish equality
in national responsibilities, to create a political system that will care
about the people? He wrote on the party website: “We will never give up, we
won't blink, we won't forget why we are here.”
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The Labor Party, led by Shelly Yachimovich, claims of course also to
represent the Israeli fed up with rising costs of living. Labor won 15
seats. However, Shelly Yachimovich's approach is a classical left-wing one.
Luckily, redistributing the wealth and other socialist recipes are not
shared by a majority of Israeli. Yair Lapid wants to tackle the problems
without questioning the market economy. On the positive side, Shelly
Yachimovich was the only leader stating clearly before the election that she
will not join a Netanyahu government, offering a credible alternative.
Yair's father, Tommy Lapid (1931-2008), was a radio and television
journalist who headed the secular-liberal Shinui party from 1999 to 2006. In
2003, Shinui managed to win 15 Knesset seats, making it Israel's third
largest party, just to be completely eliminated from parliament in the
Unlike his father, Yair Lapid wants to go beyond vocal protest. A centrist
and a television journalist like his father, Yair was smart enough to create
Yesh Atid sections all around the country. He wants There Is A Future to
remain a political force well beyond the 2013-election.
However, joining a coalition government would represent a high risk. Both
Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, not to mention Shas and other
religious parties, already made clear that they want to continue Israel's
settlement policy. Nothing has changed since
Netanyahu and his government remain obstacles to peace.
On the downside of Yair Lapid's political vision is his belief that the
Palestinian refugees have no right to return to Israel and that Jerusalem
can never be divided. How about a bit more flexibility? The Jews claim to
have a right to come back after some 2000 years. A two-state-solution and,
therefore, peace, can only be achieved with a mix of pragmatism, realism,
vision and flexibility.
Yair Lapid, Tzipi Livni and other oppositional winners have
to think twice before joining the ruling coalition. They risk to become fig leafs for Bibi
and his adventures. As
I wrote in 2009, Israel's war against Hamas would only have made
sense if it had achieved a regime-change in the Gaza strip. Unfortunately,
Hamastan is still there. Worse, after the 2012-intervention, Hamas-boss
Kahled Mashal (*1956) came back to Gaza after 45-years in exile to give an
anti-Israel speech in front of tens of thousands of enthusiastic supporters
in December 2012. Hamas seems stronger than ever.
The killing of Ahmed al-Jabari, the vice-military chief of Hamas on November
14, 2012 may not have been the wisest of decisions either. It triggered the
new escalation of violence. Ahmed al-Jabari was not only the operational
commander of Hamas's armed wing, he was also the key negotiator of the
secret back channel between Hamas and Israel.
With Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman on one side, Khaled Mashal and
Ismail Haniyeh on the other, peace seems to be as distant as ever. With
Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, a deal seemed to be possible. Former Prime
Minister Olmert came close to a breakthrough. Maybe Yair Lapid, Shelly
Yachimovich and Tzipi Livni may be able to reach out to the Palestinian side
in the future. A lot of time has been wasted, but to rush into an Israeli
coalition without a clear, realistic plan would be a mistake. The future of
Yesh Atid depends on the patience and negotiation skills of its leader.
Incidentally, 56% of Palestinian Israeli voters went to the polls.
Palestinian parties have sent 11 lawmakers to the 19th Knesset. Had the
participation among Palestinian voters been higher, had more Palestinian
lawmakers been elected, the Netanyahu government may already have been
toppled. Every vote counts!
Peace between Palestinians and Israeli may well mean including Palestinians
in an Israeli government one day, as well as including Jews in a Palestinian
government. For the moment, this seems to be science fiction.
Will Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid be forces of change, not only for the Israeli
middle-class, but also for peace in the region? The future remains
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