In what may prove to be the first major gaffe of his fresh political career, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid on Monday set his sights on the Israeli premiership before even being sworn in as a first-time MK. Speaking on Channel 2′s documentary show “Uvda” in his first interview since last week’s elections, when his centrist party won an unexpected 19 Knesset seats, Lapid said that in the next elections he will run for the prime ministership. Asked if he would win, he responded, “I expect to.”
The criticism was not slow in coming. “Lapid made a grave mistake. Announcing his plans will harm the coalition talks,” a senior Likud official said, according to Haaretz. “[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu will now think twice before assigning him a post. The prime minister doesn’t need a future challenger sitting in a senior position next to him. He will also have difficulty trusting a coalition partner who makes decisions based on his popularity.”
Lapid is expected to meet with President Shimon Peres on Thursday to name his recommendation for who should be given first rights to attempt to form a coalition. Peres will meet all the party leaders for talks later this week, after which he will almost certainly assign the task to Netanyahu.
In the interview, which was taped on Friday, Lapid also reiterated his position regarding renewing peace talks with the Palestinians, an issue that took a back seat to internal affairs during his campaign. Asked what he thought of foreign news coverage and the hope overseas that his joining the coalition would help jump-start frozen negotiations, Lapid responded, “I don’t need to read about it in English. I can read it in Hebrew on my computer because I wrote it. We need to go back to the negotiating table. That is one of my duties.”
Lapid said he has yet to receive calls from Palestinian officials, but that he plans to meet with them.
“We will deal with that too, but my first commitment is to the Israeli middle class,” Lapid said. “If we have an equal share of the burden, a small cabinet free of ministers without portfolio, and we solve our housing problems… these things strengthen the peace process. The peace process requires a healthy, functioning Israeli society.”
Lapid, whose strong elections showing puts him in the position to play a major part in shaping the next coalition, said about the discovery that his fledgling party won 19 seats that, “At first you don’t grasp the meaning of it. It takes two or three days to sink in.”
Addressing his election night phone call with Netanyahu, in which the prime minister said he believed the two could do much together for the Israeli public, Lapid said: “I understand the temptation to build up the drama, but at the end of the day it’s two people talking. It is not a moment of hidden meanings.”
He said that it was an attempt at a congratulatory phone call to Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett that really put things into perspective for him. “I tried calling him and the phone went to an answering service. The operator asked what message to leave for Naftali. I told her, ‘Tell him Yair Lapid is looking for him.’ To which she responded ‘What about?’ That moment, when you realize that not everybody is concerned with you, gives you some perspective,” he said.
Asked whether his good looks and on-camera experience played a part in his ability to draw voters, the former TV news anchor said that the ability to get across a message is not a minor thing and that much of politics is about being able to “gather people around ideas and get them to act. It is a marketplace of ideas.”
Lapid self-deprecatingly dismissed international news reports that hailed him as one of Israel’s sexiest men. “They are out of date,” said Lapid, who is 49. “The last time I was voted on that list was 20 years ago. Today I am closer to being one of the sexiest retirees. But it was nice of them. And it pleased Lihi [his wife] to hear that.”
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