Strange Bedfellows

Lapid And Bennett Come Together Ahead Of Coalition Negotiations

Sigal Samuel on why Israeli centrist Yair Lapid may lend a helping hand to the right-wing Naftali Bennett.

When Yair Lapid took everyone by surprise last week, winning a whopping 19 Knesset seats in Israel’s general elections, many on the left breathed a sigh of relief. Remember the optimists who dared, suddenly, to hope for a centrist government that would negotiate for peace with the Palestinians? And remember the pessimists who warned them not to get their hopes up? Well, now it looks as though the pessimists were really just realists after all, and Yair Lapid truly is no cause for optimism.As Ha’aretz reported today, Lapid is in the process of working with Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party, to outflank the ultra-Orthodox parties in the next coalition. The two have been coordinating their positions ahead of meetings with President Shimon Peres, in hopes of pushing legislation that would see haredim drafted into the army:

The link between Lapid and Bennett sends a clear signal to Netanyahu that both are serious about confronting the Haredi conscription issue. It also signals that Lapid wants to see Bennett in the cabinet despite the personal disputes between Bennett and Netanyahu, and is liable to force Netanyahu to accept Habayit Hayehudi into the coalition.

Confronting the haredi conscription issue is all well and good. But helping Bennett would mean empowering a leader who’s made no bones about the fact that he categorically opposes a Palestinian state. The ultra-nationalist Bennett wants to annex Area C—60 percent of the West Bank—and “tear the Gaza Strip in two.” Not exactly the great shining hope of the Israeli left.

That Lapid appears willing to give Bennett a leg-up in coalition wrangling shows where his priorities really lie. The Yesh Atid leader desperately wants to please the electorate that swept him to power in the first place, and he’s pushing hard for draft reform because that issue is overwhelmingly popular with Israelis. If doing so endangers the peace process, so be it. Israelis are far less concerned with peace these days, anyway: according to one recent poll, 55 percent of Israeli Jews don’t believe an agreement with the Palestinians will ever be reached, and according to another, Israelis care more about issues that impact them as individuals than about issues—like war and peace—that impact them as a nation.

As uncertainty over the makeup of the next coalition persists in the coming days, there’s one thing we can be sure of: If an issue doesn’t top the Israeli public’s agenda, it won’t top Lapid’s either. Why? Because Lapid is more interested in being a prom king than a peacemaker: He wants, above all, to stay popular. He’s already looking ahead to the next election cycle, and, per his recent statement to Israel’s Channel 2—“I assume I'll be prime minister after the next election”—he is clearly in it to win it.

So raise high the roof beam, leftists, and continue to hope for a leader who will put core principles ahead of what is popular. Just don’t expect that leader to be Yair Lapid.