Accomplishing this goal will not be easy, since Lapid’s targets include well-entrenched interest groups aligned with Netanyahu’s party — especially the country’s ultra-Orthodox population.
Making up roughly 10 percent of the population, the ultra-Orthodox have long used their political influence to win key benefits. Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox men receive exemptions from compulsory military service in order to pursue religious studies. These benefits continue well into adulthood, with a welfare system that allows the men to continue religious studies. These benefits have bred widespread resentment among the secular majority, which pays heavy taxes and generally serves in the military.
Lapid called religious study a ‘‘beautiful thing’’ but said the current system is unsustainable. ‘‘We can’t support this anymore,’’ he said. ‘‘They need to go out to work.’’
Lapid also criticized Netanyahu’s failure to hold any substantive negotiations with the Palestinians.
The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem — captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — as parts of a future state and have refused to negotiate with Netanyahu while he continues to build Jewish settlements in the two areas. Netanyahu rejects a full withdrawal from the West Bank and opposes any division of Jerusalem. The Palestinians seek the city’s eastern sector, home to sensitive Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites, as their capital.
Israeli doves like Livni say a Palestinian state is needed not only to end decades of conflict, but also to save Israel. Continued control over millions of disenfranchised Palestinians, they say, could turn Israel into an apartheid-like state of a Jewish minority ruling over an Arab majority.
Netanyahu himself has acknowledged the need to establish a Palestinian state. But critics, including Lapid, accuse the Israeli leader of not doing enough to pursue this vision.
‘‘I think if the prime minister really wanted to negotiate ... then he would have. I think this is part of what I'm going to do, make the government do this because it’s so important in my mind,’’ he said.
Lapid’s vision of a Palestinian state is far more generous than Netanyahu's. He favors a near-total withdrawal from the West Bank, retaining major settlement ‘‘blocs’’ along the border. But on the emotional issue of Jerusalem, Lapid sides with Netanyahu, opposing any division of the holy city.
Lapid said his late father, the former Cabinet Minister Joseph Lapid, survived the Holocaust and resettled in the holy land because of Jerusalem, saying the city ‘‘is the reason we are here and if we have to fight for it we will fight for it.’’
He expressed confidence that the Palestinians would eventually come to terms with this and relinquish their claim to the city — a position that would seem unrealistic given the Palestinians’ own emotional attachment to Jerusalem, home to the revered Al-Aqsa Mosque.
While calling the Palestinian president a ‘‘partner’’ for peace, Lapid also accused Mahmoud Abbas of intransigence and rejecting past Israeli peace offers. The Palestinians reject this narrative, saying Israeli peace offers have not been as generous as billed.
They will also be disappointed by the absence of urgency emanating from Lapid.
‘‘I think that working out of panic is always wrong. We don’t need to be hysterical about it,’’ he said.
Lapid insisted his joining the government is not a sure thing, saying his ‘‘values are not for sale.
That said, one must be practical.
‘‘Politics — you know what, life — is the art of compromise,’’ he said. ‘‘I'm married — I should know.’’
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