A year ago today, Israel watchers and Israelis alike were surprised at the result for TV showman Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party. Expected to only garner 11 mandates, the party took in 19. What was expected to be a right turn ended up fundamentally altering the coalition Netanyahu expected; in fact, the prime minister’s inevitable victory may have helped Lapid at Likud’s expense, as Israeli voters tend to be politically sagacious.
But while Yesh Atid’s triumph adumbrated a center turn, the son of Tommy Lapid, another star-cum-politician, represented more the social protests of Rothschild Boulevard than the perpetually-decaying Israeli peace camp. Lapid had more in common with Netanyahu on the Palestinian issue––indeed, other than issues of tone, it was hard to find much of a difference between the two––than American liberal Zionists (including this one) who were excited by his electoral loot. Lapid’s very first policy speech on the two-state solution was in Ariel, a contentious settlement bloc that Palestinians and many experts assert is incompatible with a contiguous Palestinian state.
After a year of token statements on two-states and an alliance with Naftali Bennett, Lapid is now threatening to leave the coalition––and ostensibly topple it––should peace talks stall. There are a few reasons why I’m almost certain he’s not going to do this.
1) Yesh Atid’s departure from the coalition does not necessarily mean the end of Netanyahu’s government. Last month I argued that Bayit Yehudi’s exit from the coalition would put Netanyahu’s government in grave jeopardy. Not so with Yesh Atid, whose exit would not set off the Likud right. In addition, Netanyahu has always had a preference for working with the Haredi parties––Shas and UTJ––who can easily provide a bandaid should Lapid bolt. Yesh Atid would need to be joined by Hatnuah in leaving in order to have any impact. If polls still mean anything, this is the very last thing Tzipi Livni wants.
2) Lapid ran the campaign of a populist and governed the Finance Ministry like a European technocrat. That’s a big no-no for someone trying to represent “the new politics”. Lapid is unlikely to replicate his 2013 result much less best Likud. If he is truly magnanimous in his newfound love for the two-state solution he will attempt to form a center-left bloc with the leaders of Labor and Hatnuah. I suspect the egos of all three are not ready for this (but are definitely ready to talk about such a thing, endlessly).
3) Lapid and Netanyahu, as mentioned earlier, don’t disagree on much. Both think all the settlement blocs will be annexed; both cite the demographic challenge as the primary reason to extricate Israel from the West Bank; and both cling to the delusion of a “United Jerusalem”. As long as the content of the talks remain largely secret, Bayit Yehudi and the right of Likud aren’t going anywhere. By leaving, Lapid would be trading an optimal situation for an uncertain one.
Lapid is shrewd, and is surrounded by intelligent advisers. He isn’t seriously considering opposition at this point in time. His remarks, when examined closely, were actually quite benign (“I think Netanyahu is acting correctly”). There’s more smoke than fire to this “threat”.