Lapid’s rise made history, now he must beat history

Even in the volatile environment of Israeli politics, the achievement of Yair Lapid and his party Yesh Atid is unprecedented.

Not only did his new party sweep up 19 Knesset seats, surprising nearly everyone by becoming the second largest, but they did so in the most crowded field of these elections: the centre. They did so without any political alliances and with a list of Knesset newcomers.

The achievement is entirely down to Mr Lapid, his personality and the hard work he has done in building the party, selecting his list, composing its manifesto and promoting it on social and traditional media and face-to-face meetings across the country.

That may, though, prove to have been the easier part of his political journey.

There are two recent examples of centrist parties which were successful in two consecutive elections, only to be decimated in the third. The first was Shinui, headed by Mr Lapid’s father, Tommy. The second is Kadima, which seems to have just scraped over the electoral threshold into the new Knesset. So how does Mr Lapid prevent Yesh Atid from becoming another two-term wonder?

He faces now two major challenges. The first is to enter Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition in the best possible condition. Not entering the coalition is not an option. Israel needs a functioning government and, while there a wide variety of coalition combinations, Yesh Atid is central to any stable government.

Mr Lapid is in a position of strength but he is facing two of the wiliest coalition-builders — and breakers — in the business, Mr Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman. Mr Lapid’s success in securing significant ministries and influencing the new government’s policies — which will necessitate compromise — will be the first real test of his, and his party’s, political durability.

Which leads to the next challenge.

Mr Lapid selected an attractive list of candidates that certainly appealed to Israeli voters. But the 19 new MKs have never worked together, and while they are all talented individuals, they also each have their own independent views and considerable egos. They come from the right and left — now they will have to learn that governing is first of all about compromising your ideology. Mr Lapid will have his work cut out keeping 18 new MKs in line while he himself discovers the ways of the Knesset.

Last updated: 2:00pm, January 24 2013