Israel's Lapid: from TV anchor to Israeli PM hopeful

Jerusalem, Unidentified: Yair Lapid, Israel's centrist opposition leader and former television presenter, came closer on Sunday to forging a coalition cabinet to unseat long-term Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

When Lapid launched his Yesh Atid (There Is a Future) party in 2012, some regarded him as the latest in a long line of media celebrities hoping to use their notoriety to gain political power.

However, Yesh Atid came in second place with 17 seats in the March elections, Israel's fourth indecisive election in less than two years, and Lapid was tasked with forming a government earlier this month after Netanyahu failed to create a coalition.

On Sunday, Lapid persuaded hardline nationalist Naftali Bennett to join him in forming a coalition cabinet that will put an end to Netanyahu's 12-year rule.

Bennett was offered the first term in a rotating premiership by Lapid, who was desperate to form a government by a Wednesday night deadline. The second would be served by Lapid.

After 11-day fighting between the Jewish state and the Gaza Strip's Hamas rulers concluded with an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire on May 21, further efforts to construct a plausible anti-Netanyahu line-up began.

Lapid, a former news presenter famed for his chiseled good looks, is the Tel Aviv-born son of Yosef "Tommy" Lapid, a fervently secular former justice minister who also left the media to pursue politics.

Shulamit, his mother, is a poet, playwright, and writer.

Lapid was a newspaper columnist before becoming a presenter on Channel 2 TV, a post that elevated his notoriety, and he once appeared on lists of Israel's most desirable men. He is an amateur boxer and martial artist who has also published a dozen books.

'Experienced voice'

Yesh Atid, a staunch secularist and centrist party, won an unexpected 19 seats in Israel's 120-member parliament in 2013, establishing the party as a serious political force.

The party joined the centrist Blue and White coalition led by former military head Benny Gantz, which was created in 2019.

After that, Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party was pitted against Blue and White in three elections in less than a year.

Lapid bolted when Gantz opted to join a Netanyahu-led coalition last spring, citing the need for unity as the coronavirus pandemic spread.

He accused Gantz of betraying a core commitment made by Blue and White to its supporters: that the party would try to depose Netanyahu.

In a September interview with AFP, Lapid said Gantz had misjudged Netanyahu's willingness to work cooperatively within the coalition.

"I told (Gantz), 'I've worked with Netanyahu. Why don't you listen to the voice of experience... He is 71 years old. He is not going to change," Lapid said.

After leaving Blue and White, Lapid became the head of Yesh Atid and the opposition's leader in parliament.

He called the short-lived Netanyahu-Gantz unity government "a terrible coalition," in which cabinet ministers who didn't get along didn't try to communicate.

He also prophesied that the alliance would fall apart in December, as it did, owing to the intense enmity between Netanyahu and Gantz.

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