The Man Who Would Beat Bibi

“I can’t think of any other democracy in which the same person was prime minister, or president, or head of state in 1996 is still the head of state,” Lapid tells me in an interview

.. Some these days even see him as Israel’s answer to Donald Trump, a celebrity come lately to politics, with no discernible ideology and a flair for popular slogans.

.. The latest polls generally show Yesh Atid (“There Is a Future” in Hebrew), leading Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party by about four seats in parliamentary elections.

.. Netanyahu is facing a rapidly spiraling investigation into a host of allegations involving gifts and perks from big donors and trading favors for positive media coverage, not to mention new pressures from the right wing in his coalition who feel emboldened by Trump’s ascension to push for harder-line policies.

.. the country’s Labor party, historically the main opposition to Netanyahu’s Likud, has all but collapsed—a fate not dissimilar to the old left in many European countries like Britain in recent years.

.. he is running as “an extreme moderate,”

.. Lapid’s patriotism, compelling biography and cheerleading nationalism on his overseas trips are clearly playing well in Israeli politics

.. In this day and age of Trump and Brexit, when fiery right-wing populists are challenging for leadership of both France and Germany in hotly contested elections that have establishment types openly fretting about the death of the liberal international order, Lapid’s equally corny appeal for the virtues of “responsible” centrism can have an oddly soothing effect.

.. Trump’s handpicked negotiator, his longtime personal lawyer Jason Greenblatt

.. He even was reported to have pushed Israel to freeze West Bank construction outside already established settlement blocs, a demand that veteran peace process watchers see as key for the Trump team to make if it is serious about getting Palestinians to the table.

.. “Trump didn’t move the Embassy, pressured Bibi to put the brakes on settlements and reached out to Abu Mazen. He seems to really believe he can be the peacemaker,”

.. If Netanyahu can’t deliver on more settlement-building from a supposedly favorable Trump administration, there are plenty on his right flank poised to criticize him. And then, there’s Lapid—officially still a two-stater though he talks increasingly these days not of peace but of “separation” between Israelis and Palestinians as the goal

.. the administration’s asks of Israel on restraining settlement activity are well within the range of traditional U.S. policy under previous administrations—much to the disappointment of some Israelis who thought it would be ‘anything goes,’”

.. But I don’t see any indication that ether Bibi or Abu Mazen is capable of taking risks necessary to get a deal

.. “The right wing has Bibi by the throat and he cannot afford to do anything to jeopardize his coalition. Bibi cannot afford any kind of cracks in his coalition and they all know it, so they’re all going to press him and he will bend to them, he has to. No politician in Israel planning to run in next election wants to talk about peace.”

.. essentially endorsing Lapid’s view that only a new centrism could save the country from the “abominable practice of both right and left to hand over the keys to the kingdom to parties that are essentially fanatic and anti-democratic.”

.. Haaretz, a liberal newspaper with which Lapid has developed a feud so pronounced he boycotts its reporters.

.. Lapid is also articulate, adaptive, well-read and savvy.

.. “It’s the problem of centrists all around the world,” he says. “You don’t get to say those inflammatory, very interesting things that the extremists from both sides get to say. You are talking on behalf of complexity

.. he’s disciplined enough not to get drawn into fights he’s never going to win.