TEL AVIV — Though one of Israel's best known public figures, Yair Lapid, the surprise star of the Jan. 22 election, is a mystery abroad. He now finds himself in the unexpected position of kingmaker, free to dictate terms to a badly weakened Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Lapid will likely emerge as Netanyahu's senior coalition partner, giving him significant influence over the direction of Israeli policy. There is a growing possibility that the former columnist and television anchor will be Israel's next foreign minister, putting his formidable media skills to good use as his country's top diplomat. But on policy, Lapid would enter the Foreign Ministry as something of an enigma: During the campaign, he focused largely on middle-class domestic issues such as compulsory army conscription for the ultra-Orthodox, and housing and education reform.
It would be wrong, however, to underestimate Lapid. He isn't simply a charismatic reader of teleprompters, and his worldview is far from "vapid," as some have dismissed it. Based on the available evidence, Lapid, a self-described centrist, has a definite worldview that hews closer to the left than the right. The signs are encouraging that he will be a moderating influence on the next Netanyahu government.
The first hint as to Lapid's worldview can be gleaned from the people with whom he surrounds himself. Lapid formed the Yesh Atid ("There is a Future") party less than a year ago, after which he personally handpicked the slate of candidates. Out of these 18 future parliamentarians, three can be described as holding foreign policy or security backgrounds.
Yaakov Perry, number five on the party list, is a former head of the Shin Bet, Israel's vaunted internal security agency. Perry, along with five other former Shin Bet chiefs, made headlines recently after taking part in the Oscar-nominated documentary The Gatekeepers, a damning indictment of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. The title alludes to the film's main thesis -- that for all of Israel's security and intelligence successes keeping the Palestinians at bay, there is no military solution to the conflict. "When you retire," Perry says in one of the film's most illuminating lines, "you become a bit of a leftist."
Number six on the party list and a close Lapid confidante is Ofer Shelah, a former military affairs commentator and sports broadcaster. Shelah is best known as a harsh critic of Israel's handling of the 2006 Lebanon War and the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead. His book Captives in Lebanon is a methodically researched denunciation of Israel's political and military echelon during the 2006 conflict; after the 2009 war, he called Israel "a crazy country" that had "adopted the ethical scale of Vladimir Putin" because of what he perceived as the needless prolongation of the campaign.