The Center Party, created in 1999, had seasoned politicians and a retired general at its helm, but it also eventually disappeared on the backdrop of the rise of an ultra-Orthodox party.
More recently, Kadima, formed by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with moderate breakaways from the rival Likud and Labor parties, has seen its fortunes sink. Pushing for an accommodation with the Palestinians, it went from being the largest party in parliament in 2006 with 29 seats, to the smallest party in the incoming parliament, with just two seats.
Dov Weisglass, who served as Sharon’s chief of staff, said the demise of these centrist parties — including Kadima — does not signal a failure of centrists in Israeli politics, but a dynamic voter base.
‘‘Centrist voters move from place to place, depending on circumstances,’’ said Weisglass. ‘‘The center is made up of people who believe in judgment by trial.’’
He and other political analysts predicted that Lapid could have more success than his centrist predecessors, including his own father. Joseph Lapid was in his 70s when Shinui made its quick rise and fall. His 49-year-old son is younger and has more time to build up his party in elections to come.
‘‘He has all the time in the world,’’ said political commentator Hanan Kristal. And, ‘‘he has learned lessons from his dad.’’
The makeup of Lapid’s party is also far different from those of his predecessors. Instead of recycling experienced politicians, Lapid cobbled together an eclectic list of inexperienced newcomers. The coterie of enthusiastic, diverse fresh faces — Ethiopian Jewish immigrants, social workers, a former security chief, a progressive Orthodox rabbi, and even a judo champion — could inject new ideas to the political scene.
Israeli commentators expect Lapid to drive a hard bargain with Netanyahu. ‘‘Netanyahu will barely be able to swallow, but people tend to show a surprising degree of flexibility when they have a knife to their necks,’’ wrote leading columnist Nahum Barnea.
‘‘He looks cavalier, and a little bit like a beach boy, but I think there’s a lot of substance,’’ said Yaron Ezrahi, a politics professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. ‘‘This is the real incarnation of centrist leadership. Many people see it as a victory of enlightened Israel over fanatic Israel.’’
If a Netanyahu-Lapid coalition fails to realize the key goals of Lapid’s party, Ezrahi said, the government could crumble, and Lapid could make a serious run at becoming prime minister.
‘‘It depends on his performance here, but he might carry the day,’’ Ezrahi said. ‘‘If he will do the right things in this coalition, there is a future for Lapid.’’
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