Netanyahu weakened as new stars emerge in Israeli politics
PM to continue for third term, but success of Lapid and Bennett shows Israelis want change
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU is expected to form a new coalition and continue as Prime Minister of Israel for a third term after the country's general election yesterday, but his position has been greatly weakened after a collapse of support for his Likud party.
Although Likud-Beitenu remains the biggest group in the Knesset, it is projected to win only 31 out of 120 seats, down from 42 at the 2009 election.
Undoubtedly, the biggest winner of the night was former television presenter Yair Lapid, whose new centrist party, Yesh Atid, came from nowhere to finish second with 18 or 19 seats predicted.
Jewish Home, the right-wing party led by ex-commando Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu's former chief of staff, failed to perform as well as some had predicted, but it still came fourth in polling and should pick up more than ten seats.
With his own party leeching support to both the left and right, Netanyahu now faces "a tough political challenge to put together a stable coalition," says The Guardian.
It does not look good for the veteran leader. "He emerges from these elections a rather diminished figure, whose wheeling and dealing skills may be sorely tested as he sets about building a new coalition," says the BBC.
Instead, the new star of Israeli politics is Lapid. The New York Times says he will now become the "the chief power broker in the formation of the next governing coalition".
The TV presenter, whose father was a Holocaust survivor who became justice minister and whose mother was a novelist, has "reinvented himself as one of the most powerful political leaders in the country, leveraging his celebrity and a populist message that resonated".
Lapid's success overshadowed that of Bennett, but according to The Times: "Netanyahu has haemorrhaged votes to Jewish Home, forcing him to lurch towards the far-right during a bruising campaign."
There is plenty of speculation as to why Likud's vote collapsed, the Times reports. Activists have pointed fingers at the Israel Beitenu party, Likud’s partners on the joint ticket, saying it was "a mistake" to merge with the party of former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, caught in a corruption scandal.
The Jerusalem Post also put Likud's collapse down to the fact there were few other realistic candidates to lead a government, so Netanyahu had no-one to campaign against.
"Without a prime-ministerial candidate on the Center-Left considered serious competition, Netanyahu pretended at times to be running against [Israeli President Shimon] Peres, former prime minister Ehud Olmert, Europe, US President Barack Obama, and finally that generic, hated foe, 'international pressure’.
"It is true that having a real, tangible adversary in an election can be helpful. Unfortunately for Netanyahu, he became his own worst enemy."
But the vote is a clear indication that the Israeli electorate want change, on a domestic front at least, argued the Post. "Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, political novices, are the country's poster boys for change – and they did astonishingly well. The old guard – Binyamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Liberman, Tzipi Livni, Shaul Mofaz – they all took it on the chin."