The Washington Post

In Israel, opposition leader Yair Lapid was given a chance to form a government after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed.

- BY STEVE HENDRIX AND SHIRA RUBIN steve.hendrix@washpost.com shira.rubin@washpost.com

JERUSALEM — Yair Lapid, a former news anchor and leader of Israel’s centrist opposition, was picked to negotiate a new governing coalition Wednesday, opening the possibilit­y of Israel getting its first government not led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in more than a decade.

President Reuven Rivlin tapped Lapid to make the next attempt to form a government one day after Netanyahu failed to assemble a parliament­ary majority after 28 days of effort. Under Israel’s system, Lapid also has four weeks to craft a power-sharing plan. If he falls short, the president could open to the process to any member of the Knesset or call for Israel’s fifth election since the spring of 2019.

Lapid will face a stiff challenge in trying to find common ground among the range of anti-netanyahu parties elected in March. As a bloc, they would control enough seats to secure a majority. But ideologica­lly, they range from the far right to the far left of Israel’s political spectrum. They also include Israeli Arab parties that traditiona­lly play no part in supporting governing coalitions but that may be needed this time.

What unites them is anger at Netanyahu’s refusal to step down after he was indicted in 2019 on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. His opponents accuse the prime minister, who has failed to secure a governing majority in four elections, of clinging to power to stave off his legal peril.

“Israel is in a dangerous place; we don’t have a functionin­g government,” Lapid said at a party meeting on Monday. “The foundation­s are ready. We can form a government.”

Netanyahu reacted with anger at the turn of events.

“This will be a dangerous, leftwing government,” the prime minister said in a statement after Rivlin announced his selection of Lapid, “a lethal combinatio­n of incompeten­ce and irresponsi­bility.”

Lapid is the most liberal of the rivals who lined up to challenge Netanyahu in the March election, Israel’s fourth in less than two years. The son of a former justice minister and a novelist, Lapid achieved celebrity status as a television news anchor in the 1990s and 2000s. He now heads the center-left Yesh Atid (There Is a Future) party, one of the largest opposition factions in the Knesset.

In four straight elections, he campaigned almost exclusivel­y on the need to depose Netanyahu, saying his divisive tactics were having a corrosive effect on Israeli politics and culture. In 2019, with former Army chief of staff Benny Gantz, he co-founded the new Blue and White party, which attracted significan­t support in each of the campaigns. Lapid split with Gantz last year when Gantz broke a pledge never to serve with Netanyahu and joined the prime minister in a power-sharing government, citing the emergency situation of the pandemic.

Gantz, who serves as both defense and justice minister, on Tuesday endorsed Lapid’s bid to form a government.

Lapid entered politics in 2012, on the heels of grass-roots social protests that demanded more government focus on issues of justice, income inequality and support for the middle class. In the past year, Lapid has again tried to tap the energy of hundreds of thousands of Israelis who gather in weekly protests — often lining highway overpasses — calling for an end to state corruption and for Netanyahu to step down.

Lapid is one of the few leading politician­s willing to express support for a Palestinia­n state. The alternativ­e, in which Israel is responsibl­e for providing services to millions of Palestinia­ns, he has said, would be the “end of Zionism.”

But while he received the second-highest number of votes in the March elections, after Netanyahu’s Likud party, Lapid will struggle to unite a kaleidosco­pe of ideologica­lly disparate parties.

The biggest wild card is expected to be former defense minister Naftali Bennett, a Netanyahu ally-turned-rival who resisted multiple overtures from the prime minister in recent weeks. Bennett declined to endorse Lapid on Tuesday, instead asking Rivlin to award him the mandate to negotiate a new government. But he indicated he is open to joining an anti-netanyahu government.

“For two and a half years, the state of Israel has been in an endless spin of elections, as if a disease of self-destructio­n has gripped the country,” Bennett said Tuesday. “The truth is simple. Netanyahu failed to form a right-wing government.”

One member of Bennett’s Yamina party resigned Wednesday to protest his possible alliance with the “Change Coalition.”

In a gesture rare in Israel’s rough-and-tumble politics, Lapid has said he would let someone other than himself take the prime minister’s office to unseat Netanyahu, install a new government and prevent a fifth election.

He recently met with Mansour Abbas, leader of the Islamist Raam party, Ayman Oudeh, head of the United Arab List, and Ahmad Tibi, a prominent Arab Knesset member, and has said he would not oppose sitting alongside Arab parties.

Gayil Talshir, a political scientist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said Lapid’s message of compromise is a conscious contrast to Netanyahu’s long history of divisive rhetoric and policies, which have exacerbate­d Israel’s long-simmering identity crisis over the character of the Israeli state.

“The right takes the more national, religious interpreta­tion,” Talshir said. “The Lapid centerleft is providing a more secular view, where Israel is still the nation-state of the Jews, but with a more tolerant, more democratic vision.”

 ?? ABIR SULTAN/EPA-EFE/REX/SHUTTERSTO­CK ?? Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has given Yair Lapid the next chance to form a government after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to organize one in 28 days. Lapid, a former news anchor and leader of Israel’s centrist opposition, has four weeks to fulfill the task.
ABIR SULTAN/EPA-EFE/REX/SHUTTERSTO­CK Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has given Yair Lapid the next chance to form a government after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to organize one in 28 days. Lapid, a former news anchor and leader of Israel’s centrist opposition, has four weeks to fulfill the task.
 ?? ALEX KOLOMOISKY/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES ?? Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, attends the swearing-in ceremony of Israel’s Knesset (parliament) in Jerusalem.
ALEX KOLOMOISKY/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, attends the swearing-in ceremony of Israel’s Knesset (parliament) in Jerusalem.

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