News Analysis: Becoming Israeli PM, Lapid gains strength in election standoff against Netanyahu

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JERUSALEM, July 1 (Xinhua) -- Yair Lapid, a journalist and TV star turned politician, became Israel's leader on Friday, beginning his term as caretaker prime minister after the parliament or Knesset dissolved itself on Thursday.

Lapid will serve as Israel's interim prime minister until a new government is formed following the elections scheduled on Nov. 1. During this period, he will work with Naftali Bennett, who stepped down from the post of prime minister on Thursday, to run the politically divisive country.

While political analysts in Israel expected that Lapid will not have the chance to make real policy changes during his term, they agreed that the position of prime minister will give him more strength to face the challenge of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving leader, in the upcoming elections.


Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, has a liberal vision but he will not be able to implement much of it during his months as caretaker prime minister, Israeli analysts said.

He is the first prime minister since 2009 who supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, a series of legislations and court rules put limits on the power of an interim government in Israel, preventing it from promoting major legislations or signing new international agreements.

Lapid is not expected either to change his predecessor's policy on Iran, which Israel considers its arch-foe.

"The job here is really to run the country without making major policy changes," Emmanuel Navon, international relations lecturer at Tel Aviv University, told Xinhua.

Lapid and Bennet formed a historic alliance of eight ideologically diverse parties, including dovish liberals, secular hawks, religious pro-settlers, and an Arab party, and successfully ousted Netanyahu.

The coalition ruled for a year before it lost its majority in the parliament following political infight and a series of defections.

Given the fact that the Lapid-Bennett coalition has disintegrated and the various restrictions Lapid faces as a caretaker prime minister, political observers predict that Lapid will face mounting difficulties in the next months.


The upcoming election marks the first time in 13 years that Israelis would cast their ballots when someone other than Netanyahu is the prime minister, Yonatan Freeman, international relations and media scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told Xinhua.

Lapid enters his campaign as caretaker prime minister, an advantage that would enable him to position himself as the main alternative to Netanyahu in the center-left bloc.

"When it comes to polling, it's always good to have the title of 'prime minister' when you run in an election," Freeman said. "This title helps in terms of projecting influence, ability and responsibility, and provides Lapid with favors in terms of public opinion."

In addition, Lapid would likely get a boost when he hosts U.S. President Joe Biden in Jerusalem in mid-July. Biden's pre-scheduled trip to the Middle East covers Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Israel hopes the White House will help to warm up ties with Saudi Arabia and even form a security alliance against possible Iranian attacks.

Biden congratulated Lapid on his appointment and thanked outgoing prime minister Bennett. "I look forward to seeing you both in July to celebrate the unbreakable U.S.-Israel partnership," Biden wrote on Twitter on Friday.

An opinion poll issued on Wednesday on Channel 12 TV news indicated that Netanyahu's Likud party would win 34 seats, emerging as the party with the highest number of seats, and Lapid's Yesh Atid would win 20 seats, becoming the second-largest party. However, Netanyahu's bloc includes 58 seats, short of the majority needed to form a ruling coalition.

No single party in Israel has ever won the needed majority of 61 seats in the 120-seat parliament to form a government. So all politicians who aspire to become the prime minister need to find enough allies.

Possible merging of some parties, forming of new alliances, and even one minor party falling short of the number of votes needed to pass the threshold for entering the Knesset could shift the political map and change the balance between the two blocs.

"It's very hard to place any bets on what's going to happen, given these are very close elections," Guy Ben-Porat from the Department of Politics and Government at the Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, told Xinhua. Enditem

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