Magazine article Newsweek

Meet Yair Lapid, Netanyahu's Strongest Political Opponent and Maybe Israel's Next Prime Minister; Yair Lapid, Benjamin Netanyahu's Chief Rival, Spoke to Newsweek about Peace with the Palestinians and the Future of Israel

Magazine article Newsweek

Meet Yair Lapid, Netanyahu's Strongest Political Opponent and Maybe Israel's Next Prime Minister; Yair Lapid, Benjamin Netanyahu's Chief Rival, Spoke to Newsweek about Peace with the Palestinians and the Future of Israel

Article excerpt

Byline: Jack Moore

Three years ago, Yair Lapid was a centrist Israeli politician working as Benjamin Netanyahu's finance minister. Today, he is a key witness in the corruption probe dogging the prime minister.

He's also Netanyahu's chief rival in the 2019 elections. If they were held tomorrow, pollsters say, Lapid's centrist party, Yesh Atid--which translates from Hebrew as "There is a future"--could win several more seats than Netanyahu's right-wing Likud Party, though Lapid would have to form a coalition from within a weak and crowded opposition.

Then again, Netanyahu is under significant pressure. On February 13, the Israeli police recommended the country's attorney general indict him on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The same evening, Lapid confirmed Israeli press reports that he had been crucial to that explosive recommendation. He served as a key witness in one of the four bribery probes involving Netanyahu. In that case, prosecutors allege that Netanyahu tried to push a law through Lapid's Finance Ministry that would have provided tax breaks to a billionaire associate--Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan--who had given the Netanyahu family some 750,000 shekels ($218,000) in lavish gifts. (Lapid says he refused to pass the law, despite pressure from Netanyahu.)

"Like any law-abiding citizen who is asked by the police to help them get to the truth, I went and answered all their questions," Lapid said in a statement on February 14. He described it as a "sad day" when an Israeli leader is accused of criminal offenses, and he has publicly called for Bibi to step aside.

Netanyahu's allies have responded angrily, calling Lapid a "snitch," while the Israeli leader has tried to appear steadfast, saying he will not resign.

As the scandal widened, Newsweek spoke with Lapid in Tel Aviv about his vision for the country and his bid to end the longest single term of any prime minister in Israeli history.

When you've been in politics for this long, you are first and foremost a politician. What we are offering is a real alternative to that. [Unlike Netanyahu], I truly believe we need to make progress with the Palestinians. I believe in the two-state solution, but in bringing it about cautiously.

In order to be super strong, we need to separate from the Palestinians. Our attempt to run the lives of 2.9 million Palestinians in the West Bank and another 2 million in Gaza is not strengthening the country; it weakens it. We will find a strong, secure way of separating ourselves from them. I want this to be a democratic and Jewish state. …

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