Yair Lapid Is Now Israel's Caretaker Prime Minister, Replacing Coalition Partner Bennett

Lapid formally took the helm as Israel's 14th prime minister at midnight, as politicians and voters prepare for election on November 1 – the country's fifth since April 2019

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Incoming Prime Minister Yair Lapid in the Knesset, on Thursday.
Incoming Prime Minister Yair Lapid in the Knesset, on Thursday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Yair Lapid replaced coalition partner Naftali Bennett to become Israel's 14th prime minister at midnight on Thursday night, assuming the position of caretaker premier until a new government is sworn in after the November 1 early election.

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U.S. President Joe Biden congratulated Lapid on Twitter, as well as Secretary of State Antony Blinken who said: "I look forward to continuing to work closely with Prime Minister Lapid to bolster all aspects of the enduring U.S.-Israel partnership and to counter shared threats."

"Israel has no better friend than the United States and our commitment to Israel’s security remains ironclad. The President and I look forward to further enhancing our vital bilateral partnership during his visit to Israel in July and beyond," Blinken added.

After being instated as prime minister, Lapid is set to embark on a series of meetings and ceremonies, including convening a meeting on the issue of MIAs on Friday morning at the Israeli military's headquarters in central Tel Aviv.

Hamas released this week footage of Hisham al-Sayed, one of two Israelis held by the Gaza group alongside the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, in an apparent bid to pressure Israel into a prisoner swap.

Lapid will hold his first cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on Sunday.

Born in November 1963, Lapid’s career began as a military journalist on the Israel Defense Forces weekly magazine Bamahane. After his discharge he landed at Maariv, and by the age of 25 was already writing personal columns in the daily paper. He would write a weekly column for the next 20 years.

Following a career that encompassed acting, songwriting and TV hosting alongside journalism, Lapid entered the political scene in 2012 by forming his Yesh Atid party catering to the Israel’s moderate and struggling middle class.

Lapid was the architect of the outgoing Bennett-led coalition— a group of eight diverse parties spanning Israel's political spectrum that was bonded largely by shared antipathy toward opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. The coalition ended Netanyahu's record 12-year stint.

The forthcoming election campaign has already become dominated by the prospect of a possible comeback by Netanyahu, who hopes to win a sixth term in office despite being on trial for corruption on charges he denies. Surveys have shown his right-wing Likud party leading the polls, but still short of a governing majority despite support of allied religious and nationalist parties.

Lawmakers voted to dissolve the Knesset on Thursday after a drawn-out parliament session, with 92 voting in favor and none opposing. The vote had itself become a political battlefield and was postponed several times after lawmakers from both sides of the aisle submitted thousands of objections.

Lapid visited Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center immediately after the vote, and attended a small ceremony at the Prime Minister's Office.

At a transitional meeting with Bennett, the former prime minister – who said he will not run in the next election – told Lapid: "The state of Israel does not belong to one person, it belongs to all the people of Israel. I pass on to you the responsibility over Israel, and wish that you watch over it and that God watch over you."

Lapid also met with President Isaac Herzog, who congratulated the incoming prime minister, saying "I wish you great success, because your success is the country's success, regardless of elections."

Bennett and Lapid moved last week to disband the Knesset after infighting made their ruling coalition no longer tenable. A year ago, they had ended former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's reign by forming a rare alliance of nationalists, liberals and Arab parties, which – while ultimately faltering – lasted longer than many had expected.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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