Lapid predicts internal squabbling, popular dissent will see government fall by 2024

Former PM says Netanyahu is weak and at the mercy of his coalition partners: ‘He’s playing the political game with the most extreme elements in Israeli society. It won’t end well’

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset on January 2, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset on January 2, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former prime minister Yair Lapid predicted that internal rifts and extreme politics will see the new government fall by next year and warned that his successor, Benjamin Netanyahu, was too weak politically to control his extremist partners.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Walla news site conducted on Sunday and published Friday, Lapid discussed his loss in the November elections and his concerns over the coalition Netanyahu has crafted, which includes three far-right factions and two ultra-Orthodox parties along with his Likud.

Lapid was optimistic that he would soon return to power, predicting that despite having a clear majority of 64 lawmakers in the 120-seat Knesset, the government would fall by 2024 or “maybe even sooner.”

“They will bring themselves down,” he said. “Look at them, if something starts out rotten — then it is rotten.”

“The most obvious thing is Netanyahu’s weakness. He is not used to being weak and does not know how to be weak, but he is,” Lapid said. “He is weak because of his trial, weak because he is surrounded by much younger people who have no regard for him, and even within his party there are cracks.”

Lapid and others have repeatedly accused Netanyahu of being weak after he made far-reaching concessions in coalition negotiations to his partners, the far-right Otzma Yehudit, Religious Zionism and Noam, and the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism. He also faced dissent from within Likud, especially from those left without cabinet portfolios after most of the top jobs went to other parties.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu (L) speaks with Religious Zionism party head Bezalel Smotrich during a Knesset floor debate, December 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Lapid also said the new hardline government will have problems when faced with geopolitical realities.

“They are weakened by the fake news that they use to convince themselves, and then they will discover something called reality. In reality, there are Palestinians, there are Americans, there is the economy and there are innumerable real problems and real people who become angry if you don’t help them,” he said, adding that the opposition also intended to make life difficult for the government.

Lapid said that Netanyahu was aware of these issues, but “did not have the strength to prevent them.”

“Now he is playing the political game with the most extreme elements in Israeli society. It won’t end well,” he said. “The most worrying thing is that Netanyahu knows this, he knows it is dangerous.”

Lapid said Netanyahu’s only motivation to stay in power was his ongoing trial and his hope to find a way to avoid prison time.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing in his trial, at the district court in Jerusalem on May 31, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Lapid was repeatedly asked about his own failings in the election to motivate the center-left and get the parties in his camp to unite in order to avoid the loss of votes that eventually occurred when the left-wing Meretz party failed to cross the electoral threshold.

He defended himself by saying that he was not prepared to adopt the tactics of the right.

“I am an honest man, I stand at the head of a decent party that is the second largest party in Israel and it will be the largest party in Israel in the next elections, and I refuse to distort myself according to their standards,” Lapid said.

He also defended his decision to rule out a joint government with Netanyahu, even if it meant preventing the far-right from coming to power, which he called a “clear and present danger to Israeli democracy.”

“If we were to do that, it really would mean the end of Israeli democracy, because we would be admitting that the anti-democratic forces won with such a knock-out that everyone had to come under their mantle,” Lapid said.

“There were elections. They went in saying that a man facing serious criminal charges can be prime minister, saying that they will destroy the courts, that democracy is not terribly important and that the world is divided up into traitors and those who agree with them,” he said. “If you surrender to that, and you are the largest party in the opposition, then you are saying, ‘Yes, I accept everything they said.'”

Lapid spoke Sunday before the government announced the details of its plan to overhaul the legal system, which, if enacted, would amount to arguably the most drastic changes ever to Israel’s system of government.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin holds a press conference unveiling his plans to overhaul Israel’s judicial system, at the Knesset on January 4, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The changes set out by Justice Minister Yariv Levin during a press conference at the Knesset would severely limit the authority of the High Court of Justice, give the government control over the judicial selection committee, and significantly limit the authority of government legal advisers.

Lapid said that he would undo all those moves should he return to power.

“We will return because they are acting like this,” he said, adding that it would be possible to undo the damage due to Israel’s long history as a liberal democracy.

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