Nearly every time there are elections in Israel, three things happen:
- A new party rises from nowhere to capture secular voters who are primarily interested in domestic issues, and who are rebelling from the major parties.
- Like a baby playing peek-a-boo, we’re pleasantly surprised every time this happens.
- The new party disappears as quickly as it came.
This time may be different. If Lapid wants to be more than just the flavor of the month, here’s what he needs to do:
1. Deliver the goods
Crazy, right? Some previous third parties have tried and failed. Some overplayed their hand and sat in the opposition. None have succeeded.
Lapid needs to work with Netanyahu and other partners to:
- Dramatically increase the number of Hareidim serving in the army and in the workforce.
- Improve the functioning of the free market, including by releasing more government lands and leading to reduced housing prices.
- Reduce Israel’s diplomatic isolation and restart a diplomatic process with the Palestinians.
2. Be positive
Yair Lapid reminds me of Senator Rand Paul. Each man’s father was a visionary outsider with a strong cult following fed partially by sharp attacks on opponents. The sons have learned to keep the core of the vision while finding common ground with others. Both men committed to transform the family brand from obnoxious outsider to pragmatic leader.
Tommy Lapid ran a fiery anti-Shas campaign. Yair Lapid’s campaign was mostly positive.
Tommy Lapid insisted he wouldn’t sit with Hareidi parties. He was forced to backtrack. Yair insists he’ll sit with anybody as long they’re working together to accomplish his party’s mission.
At a toast at the Justice Ministry, Justice Minister Tommy Lapid and the head of the Rabbinical courts joked that they worked very well together but that if either of their constituencies found out about their productive relationship it could destroy both of their careers. Yair’s public rhetoric should match a private commitment to cooperation.
Many of the Hareidim agree that the current arrangements are bad for everyone. Shas has expressed willingness to sit with Lapid in a government committed to fixing the “unequal sharing of the burden” problems. Lapid must stay on the high road and work with others to succeed.
3. Be visible
The Finance Ministry would better allow Lapid to accomplish his domestic goals, which are the goals that most concern his constituency. But accepting the Finance Ministry is usually political suicide. Which is why Sharon pushed Netanyahu into it years ago.
Lapid would be much better served with the Foreign Ministry. He can visibly push Israel forward diplomatically. World leaders will bend over backward to help Lapid look good, hoping that it will hurt Netanyahu. Israel’s left will appreciate Lapid’s actions on diplomatic issues, even as he spends most of his political capital to advance his domestic priorities.
4. Stay clean and united
Corruption and various internal struggles helped destroy many of Yesh Atid’s predecessors. Lapid must retain his Mr. Clean image or it all falls apart.
5. Replace the left
In 2006 and 2009, Kadima ran as the head of the left-center, despite the fact that its top three members were from the Likud. If Yesh Atid has a future, it’s in replacing Labor as the alternative to the Likud.
Lapid needs to serve for a few years as a popular foreign minister and accomplish the key domestic goals that eluded his predecessors. He can then break the government over some issue popular with the left and center, and position himself as a Prime Minister candidate in the next elections. With Netanyahu’s declining popularity and no clear successor in sight, Lapid may even be the favorite.
6. Don’t get swallowed
Parties often get great deals to join the larger party. They never recover. Though given that Yesh Atid is bigger than Labor, there should be no such temptation.
History suggests that Yair Lapid’s party is just the latest passing fad. Even Kadima, which was started by a sitting Prime Minister, disappeared rather abruptly.
Lapid has the chance to be different. It won’t be easy. But the alternative is to repeat this process during the next election cycle, with a new rising star.