Hassan Barari
Arab News (Opinion)
March 11, 2013 - 12:00am

Barring a last minute surprise, Benjamin Netanyahu is poised to form a working governmental coalition this week. His ability to form his third government is a slam-dunk after Yair Lapid, the head of Yesh Atid Party, relinquished his demand to assume the portfolio of foreign affairs. Lapid’s desire to be a foreign minister was the stumbling block in the path of forming a government with Bennett.

Lapid’s previous insistence to be a foreign minister has to do with his perception of his qualification and experience. Pundits say that he is better fit to play this role thanks to his communication skills and media expertise. Undoubtedly, Lapid would make a better foreign minister than the Lieberman.

Lapid’s alliance with Bennett made both of them indispensable should Netanyahu seek a stable coalition that can face the new challenges whether domestically or externally. For Netanyahu, bringing both of Lapid and Bennett to the coalition at the expense of religious parties is a kind of uncharted water. It remains to be seen how this will play out in Israeli politics. And yet, he felt that ditching both Lapid and Bennett would have undermined his chances to form a government. Therefore, he has to deal with them and accept them even grudgingly.

But it is not as if Lapid is invincible. His enthusiasm to become a minister of foreign affairs has not resonated well with the public. At the end, Lapid campaigned on socio-economic issues. Important as they may be, foreign policy issues were not visible in the Israeli elections. Unsurprisingly, Lapid was criticized for evading demanding the portfolio of finance to be in a position to translate his pledges into policies.

Implicit in Lapid’s desire to evade the Finance Ministry is his lack of experience. Perhaps, he felt that Netanyahu wanted to entrust him to be a minister of finance only to expose his lack of experience and then weaken him. Dealing with budget deficit, different financial issues, protesters, and extra-parliamentarian bodies would be a totally new territory for Lapid. Indeed, Lapid could have turned to others in his party who could do a better job. But in Israel, such a step is like taking a huge political gamble. A success of anyone from Lapid party in this post may create unnecessary competitions and perhaps lead to some splits in months or years to come.

Equally important, Netanyahu’s ulterior objective of exposing Lapid may backfire. There is always an opportunity that Lapid learn to do the job and transform from a talker to a doer. A success of Lapid in his post will surely make him a more appealing leader who can challenge Netanyahu in the future from a position of strength. Additionally, his voters will feel proud and will be vindicated for supporting Lapid in his bid to shake off Israel’s political system.

The first test of this government will come when President Obama comes to visit Israel. Not surprisingly, President Obama does not want to raise the expectations. Hence, he is not going to present an initiative to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Nonetheless, Obama is not coming to the region just to listen to new ideas. In fact, he could have invited all leaders to Washington and listen to them. Most likely, Obama will put some demands on both sides to the conflict. Netanyahu will have to respond to the new ideas and demands that Obama may present. With Lapid, Netanyahu may move on with the peace process but not to the extent to resolve the conflict in its entirety. All we can say at this moment is that Obama may help jump-start a peace process but not make peace in the region.

And yet, things should not be taken at face value. Even with Lapid’s moderate political views with regard to the peace process, his partner, Bennett holds right wing ideas with regard to dealing with the Palestinians.
In brief, the new government under the leadership of Netanyahu will be dealing with a mix of challenges that may weaken the alliance between Bennett and Lapid. Therefore, Netanyahu is aware that his stable coalition with both Lapid and Bennett cannot hold for long. Seen in this way, Netanyahu pushed Lapid to accept the portfolio of finance hoping that he would fail. It remains to be seen how this gamble is going to work.


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