Less than a week after Israelis took to the polls, it now appears certain that no coalition government will be viable without the inclusion of Yesh Atid, the center-left surprise winners of Tuesday's election. With the center-right block (which includes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party) holding a scant 61 seats to the center-left's 59, Netanyahu will be forced to include Yesh Atid if it hopes to form a strong government.
This election cycle was the first for Yesh Atid, a brand-new party formed by TV personality Yair Lapid, and the party came out of left field to win 19 seats in the Knesset.
Lapid's breakout success has earned him the nickname "Kingmaker" in the international media. He's one of Israel's most famous men, the son of a deputy prime minister who went on to make a name for himself as a print journalist before hosting a popular talk show.
Following the elections, the New York Times gushed over Lapid's "good looks and suave manner," depicting him as a committed populist with a mandate to save Israel's middle class.
In reality, Lapid is a middle-of-the-road political people-pleaser, more concerned with his party's image than with bringing real change to Israel. Yesh Atid's five-point agenda is comprised mainly of fluff, such as a proposal to provide more housing for veterans, hardly an issue likely to meet with much opposition. The party's one truly controversial position is Lapid's commitment to ending military draft exemptions for Israel's ultra-Orthodox community. Although this proposal has met with strong opposition from Israel's ultra-Orthodox religious parties, it is unlikely to offend Israel's allies abroad.
More problematic than his lack of substance is Lapid's waffling on the issue of peace talks with the Palestinians. Before the elections, Lapid famously stated that he wouldn't join any government that wasn't serious about peace talks with the Palestinian leadership. But his party's platform precludes a settlement freeze and denies any Palestinian right to control over Jerusalem.
The Palestinian Authority has long maintained it will not enter into peace talks unless a settlement freeze is implemented, and it's unlikely the Palestinians will accept any deal that permanently cedes control of all of Jerusalem to Israel. This means that Lapid's platform itself preempts any possibility of reaching a peace deal with Palestine.
Although Yesh Atid's success has been hailed as signaling a new direction for Israeli politics, Lapid has not given any sign of a willingness to demand major change. As befits a former talk-show host, he's all style, no substance.