On Wednesday night, Yair Lapid became Israel’s 14th prime minister under very poor starting conditions. He has to manage his temporary government for the next four months with senior ministers, who head rival parties, fighting him for the sympathy of the voters. And those are his allies.
Standing against him are opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu and his partners, who have already broken every record in personal and ultra-nationalist incitement and are expected to sink even lower.
Even before wishing him success in his new role, Lapid deserves the gratitude of Israel’s citizens for the government he established and maintained with Naftali Bennett who, despite his faults, was able to bring back a little of the fairness and statesmanship that had disappeared from public life during the Netanyahu era. The smooth transfer of power between them has illustrated this.
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Over the past three years, Lapid has demonstrated responsibility as a leader who knows how to adjust his personal aspirations for the sake of partnerships with Kahol Lavan chairman Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Bennett. His conduct also proved that he has weaned himself off the frenetic nationalistic line that characterized his first years in politics.
One hopes that he will continue on this path now as well, when he is compelled to balance responsibility for the wellbeing of state and society in Israel with the demands of a stormy election campaign.
The main lesson Lapid should take with him from his year alongside Bennett is that in the polarized Israeli reality, this is the only proper coalition, and it should not be regarded as a forced situation or an experiment.
Lapid must not be dragged into contests of patriotism and Jewish loyalty with Netanyahu. This government, which also represents Arab society, together with right-wing, center and left-wing parties, is the only safeguard of Israeli democracy at this time.
If Lapid has proven anything in his long journalistic career, it is that he knows how to market an optimistic image of Israel’s future. He must now harness this talent to persuade Israelis that they can and should support a real partnership between Jewish and Arab citizens. The other parties in the center-left also have a role in this. But as of today, the responsibility is mainly that of Prime Minister Lapid.
Many people are hoping for his downfall. Not only Netanyahu and his supporters, but also some of Lapid’s partners over the past year. For the good of Israel, we wish him success.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.