Yesh Atid will be the second-largest party in the 19th Knesset, and its leader, Yair Lapid, will play a key role in forming the new government. In his victory speech on Election Night, Lapid spoke of the heavy responsibility that now rests on his shoulders, following his electoral showing. Lapid is right. He has been handed a responsibility to defend Israeli democracy and to protect it from internal forces threatening to bring it down.
Voters have rejected the right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties’ claim that the public would lend its unassailable support to a bloc headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett. Voters have rejected the parties’ claim that they have been given a mandate to annex West Bank territory, expand settlements, destroy the Supreme Court and bring about the extinction of the free press.
And yet, the blow that the right wing sustained at the polls was not decisive, and the battle over the character of the state will continue full force even in the aftermath of the election.
In this battle, Lapid must be the standard-bearer of a sane, moderate Israel that seeks integration into the international community and promotes civil rights. After asking on the campaign hustings where the public’s money was going, Lapid now must push for necessary changes in the nation’s priorities: less for defense, the settlers and the ultra-Orthodox; and more for responsible fiscal policy and protecting the interests of the public at large.
The diplomatic electoral platform that Lapid ran on commits his party to resuming negotiations over the establishment of a Palestinian state, along with withdrawing from West Bank territory beyond the settlement blocs. Some of the details of the Yesh Atid platform, such as “a united Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital” and “settlement construction to meet natural growth,” are considered unacceptable by the other side and will make it impossible to reach an agreement. Nonetheless, Lapid must insist on supporting compromise and partition of the land. He must not be tempted by Netanyahu’s proposals for changes to the system of government and drafting of the ultra-Orthodox in return for a continuation of the damaging, aggressive foreign policy espoused by Likud and its Yisrael Beiteinu partners.
In the absence of Likud moderates in the next government, following their marginalization on the party’s election slate, Lapid will be the representative of liberal Israel. As he himself said, heavy responsibility rests upon his shoulders. He must not squander it in exchange for senior cabinet posts or empty promises.
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