As coalition talks begin in earnest

The aspirations for a fairer deal of Israel’s middle class youth are on line after the centrist leader that they have catapulted to a position of political advantage begins his confrontation with those who want him to abandon some of his core campaign promises.

Veterans in the art of stealth and political deception, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his co-partner Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beiteinu party are already hard at work to pull away Yair Lapid — the rising star on Israel’s political horizon after his party, Yesh Atid logged 19 seats in Wednesday’s parliamentary elections — from his of campaign goals of economic justice and shared responsibility.

As Mr. Netanyahu begins the task of firming up the next coalition, where the longevity of the government could crucially depend on the inclusion of the centrists, Mr. Lapid is being lured with plum portfolios that he does not want. YnetNews is reporting that Mr. Lapid is being offered the lucrative choice of finance and foreign affairs portfolios.

Neither of the two is likely to help the former television presenter to address bread-and-butter concerns of his core supporters.

His backers point out that Mr. Lapid is unlikely to show quick and positive results as Finance Minister, given the depth of the economic crisis. Some analysts say the offer of Foreign Ministry, despite its star value, is also a trap, as the country is steeped in domestic problems. By accepting the post of top diplomat, Mr. Lapid would be effectively sidetracked from the deep gut level concerns of ordinary Israelis.

Nevertheless, Mr. Lieberman, the former Foreign Minister, has gone to some length to signal Mr. Lapid that, if likes, he could walk through the Foreign Ministry’s door. “The foreign affairs portfolio does not have my name on it,” said Mr. Lieberman in loaded interviews on Thursday.

Writing in the daily Yedioth Ahronoth, political analyst Sima Kadmon points out that the Yesh Atid chief is more inclined to look out for portfolios of housing or internal affairs, in tune with his party’s campaign promises.

Soon after the election results were out, Mr. Lapid made it plain that he intended to push for a universal draft bill that would not exempt religious seminary students, called Haredim, from military service.

But on Friday, a Haredi teacher fired his riposte by writing a harsh open letter where he warned Mr. Lapid of a possible civil war if he did not alter his stand. “I am writing this letter to you because I believe you are holding the key to running this country. To be more specific, these elections placed a great responsibility on your shoulders: It is up to you to prevent civil war in Israel. It’s as simple as that,” wrote Ohad Shaked.

Aware of his pre-eminent position as king-maker, Mr. Lapid has so far shown no inclination to be tempted into hasty decisions. In a post on his Facebook page he wrote: “What’s happening now is neither a coalition negotiation nor the beginning of one. What’s most important is patience.”

Street power

As he navigates a political minefield, the middle class youth who revolted for change at Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard nearly two years ago, and helped emerge as apolitical heavyweight, may once again need to demonstrate its street power to support Mr. Lapid, observers say. Young men and women with backpacks still throng the avenue, on foot, bicycles or scooters.

The tents in the park which divide the boulevard have long gone, but the youthful energy in the sylvan street, with a potential to ignite is still palpable, in case negotiations for a new social contract with the government fail.

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