It’s been several weeks since Yair Lapid took his recently-established Yesh Atid party into the government coalition. Lapid’s success at winning 19 seats while its rival for the center, Kadima, was devastated and its main challenger from the right, Likud-Beiteinu, dropped 12 seats seemed to make of him a boy wonder who could change Israeli politics. Reports of him in both the Israeli and American press commented on his grand achievement, and much of that sense of accomplishment has continued since then.
Five weeks isn’t a lot of time by which to judge a new politician, but if we want to get a sense of how he’ll do in the near future, it might be useful to track what Lapid has done thus far. And by the standards and expectations he set out after the election through his rhetoric and actions, he’s done a really great job.
Despite some early hopes that Lapid would be a savior of the peace process, others quickly pointed out that his alliance with Naftali Bennett and Jewish Home would stifle his otherwise-important declaration that peace with the Palestinians, through real negotiations, was critically necessary. By that standard, Lapid’s stuck to the expectations he generated.
When Jewish Home’s Minister of Housing and Construction, Uri Ariel, declared that the government would continue to build settlements in the West Bank, pledged to build in E1, and spoke of the settlement enterprise in more typically redemptive language, it was Tzipi Livni—not Yair Lapid—who spoke out against the comments. It’s possible Lapid expressed concern to his fellow ministers in private, but Israel is not a place where secrets—especially government deliberations—are easily kept.
On what some feared would be Lapid’s “war on the Haredi,” he has pushed hard in the new budget he’s presented to Benjamin Netanyahu. It’s a tough budget, incorporating cuts and some raising of taxes, but not as austere as some worried it might be. But it does include several changes to key Haredi resources, including a reduction in child allowances and an effort to bring Haredi schools more directly under government supervision, without which Haredi parties will have a harder time meeting their constituents’ demands.
Similar to the cuts to Haredi resources, Lapid has reduced several items that the so-called middle class in Israel relies on, including the education budget. Lapid has spent considerable effort trying to delineate the middle class—which many argued was a key component of his voter base. As it turns out, Yesh Atid’s voters did not necessarily come from the middle class, nor does his contention that he’s out to help the middle class actually match the reality of who falls into this category.
Underlying the cuts in both of these areas is a lack of cuts to budgets dealing with the settlements—which absorb a considerable portion of government expenditures through military protection, building of infrastructure, and so on. This connects back to the first point about Lapid’s alliance with Bennett. Lapid simply isn’t that worried about the settlement enterprise and its consequences, nor does he yet want to break up his partnership with Bennett.
In short, Lapid has done pretty much exactly what close Israel watchers expected of him. To be fair, much of the budgetary cuts are necessary to bring Israel’s deficit under control, to reduce the bloated bureaucracy, and to exert more effective government management of the country’s budgetary processes.
But where he has cut and where he hasn’t are key indicators of his priorities, and that includes remaining in power and working to increase his chances at the premiership in the next round. By those standards, he’s doing fairly well. By the standards many early admirers set out, such as looking out primarily for the middle class and controlling the settlement enterprise, he hasn’t.