World ponders a winner who lost and an absent slide rightwards
International media review

World ponders a winner who lost and an absent slide rightwards

Press election coverage highlights Netanyahu's coalition difficulties, and Lapid's unexpected rise

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Yair Lapid, chairman of the Yesh Atid party, outside his home on January 22 (photo credit: Avishag Shaar Yashuv/Flash 90)
Yair Lapid, chairman of the Yesh Atid party, outside his home on January 22 (photo credit: Avishag Shaar Yashuv/Flash 90)

The apparent deadlock between the right-wing-Orthodox bloc and the center-left-Arab bloc dominates the international press’s coverage of Tuesday’s Knesset elections. Besides describing the difficulties Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to face in trying to form a stable government in light of the underwhelming results of his Likud-Beytenu list, many Israel-based correspondents also focused on the surprise success of the centrist Yesh Atid party and the fact that the right-wing Jewish Home party ultimately fell below expectations.

“Winning elections is one thing, being able to govern is another,” the French Le Monde writes, adding that Netanyahu, whose list garnered 31 of the 120 Knesset seats, emerged “paradoxically weakened” from the polls. Likud-Beytenu’s heavy loss is mainly the result of Netanyahu’s union with the “troublesome” former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, the paper assesses.

All papers agree that, as the head of the Knesset’s largest faction, Netanyahu will be first in line to form a government. But how exactly that coalition is going to look is the subject of much speculation. “Although Netanyahu’s natural partners are the smaller right-wing and religious parties, he is likely to be keen to include Yesh Atid and possibly Hatnua, which is led by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni and won seven seats,” writes the Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood. “However, Livni’s insistence on a return to meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians could deter Netanyahu from inviting her to join him.”

In a separate article focusing on Lapid, Sherwood describes the new would-be kingmaker of Israeli politics as a person with “smooth good looks, easy manner, charming smile.”

“Lapid steered his new party hard away from foreign policy and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, only making vague calls for the resumption of talks while insisting Jerusalem would never be divided as the capital of two states. But now he has acknowledged that Israel is ‘facing a world that is liable to ostracize us because of the deadlock in the peace process,'” she writes.

A photograph of Lapid was featured prominently on the homepage of The New York Times on Wednesday morning, above a headline calling the former television anchorman a “charismatic leader.”

“With his good looks and suave manner, Yair Lapid had long been a celebrity and symbol of success here, building a strong following as a prominent journalist and the host of a popular television show,” the paper’s Isabel Kershner writes. “But by the time the polls closed here Tuesday, it was clear that Mr. Lapid had reinvented himself as one of the most powerful political leaders in the country, leveraging his celebrity and a populist message that resonated.”

Reporting on the “tepid vote” for Netanyahu, the paper’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Jodi Rudoren, writes that the election result “was a humbling rebuke” to the prime minister’s “conservative team.”

The Sydney Morning Herald similarly reports that Netanyahu suffered a “heavy blow” at the polls and quotes Israeli pundits who “are already predicting that any coalition Mr Netanyahu may form will be too fragile to last a full four-year term and say the country may to go to the polls again in the next 12 to 18 months.”

Israel’s next government, if it survives, will be focused on domestic issues, the paper’s Ruth Pollard writes, but it is “on the key foreign policy issues of Iran and a two-state solution with the Palestinians that Mr Netanyahu may find himself most constrained.”

The German Der Spiegel ran a story headlined “The winner lost,” also predicting that Netanyahu would have a hard time forming a coalition. “King Bibi lost… Netanyahu overestimated himself,” the paper’s Julia Amalia Heyer writes.

In reporting on the unexpected results of “a boring campaign,” the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung focused on Lapid’s upset success but also on the surprisingly poor outcome for Israel’s far right. The much-anticipated success of Jewish Home had created the impression that Israel was “moving even further to the right,” the paper’s veteran Israel correspondent Hans-Christian Roessler writes. “But this development of the past years has been stopped for now. Voters apparently cared more about domestic issues, such as the high cost of living and a reform of conscription laws, than about Jewish values and the building of settlements.”

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