STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
It’s too soon to say that Benjamin Netanyahu’s long run as prime minister of Israel is over, but someone not named Netanyahu does have a chance to succeed him – a former-news-anchor-turned-politician named Yair Lapid. He’s a centrist party leader, and Israel’s president has designated him to try to form a new government. NPR’s Daniel Estrin is in Jerusalem. Daniel, welcome.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: How did Israel get into this situation that they’re in at the moment?
ESTRIN: Well, it all comes down to one man, and that’s Benjamin Netanyahu. He is a polarizing leader. He’s now on trial for corruption, as you know. And for the last two years, he’s not been able to win an election outright, and neither have his rivals. But he has not quit. He’s run for reelection again and again in four different elections, all the while staying in office, fighting his corruption trial from a position of power.
And now what’s happened is that here we are again. Netanyahu could not form a government after the last elections in March, so the president has asked Yair Lapid to give it a try.
INSKEEP: Why would he even have a chance to succeed?
ESTRIN: He’s a familiar face in Israel from his days in television, and he’s been in politics for quite some time. What he brings to the table is that he’s a centrist. So Yair Lapid thinks he has the ability to bring together right-wing parties and left-wing parties, maybe even an Arab party, all for the common goal of ending Netanyahu’s tenure. And he is determined to make this work, so much so that he’s even offering to let Naftali Bennett, who is a hard-right politician, be prime minister first, and then they would rotate.
INSKEEP: Wow. Well, that’s interesting. So the guy who’s been told to form the government might form a government that he doesn’t even lead. Where does that say about where Israel is right now?
ESTRIN: That’s right. He wouldn’t lead it automatically at first. He’d let Naftali Bennett lead it first, and then it would be a rotation. I mean, what this says about Israel right now – the right is clearly dominant, Steve. I mean, even if they disagree on whether to support Netanyahu, right-wing parties won an overwhelming majority of the parliament in all of these recent elections. So no matter what, any government would need to include right-wing parties that are very ideologically driven – they oppose the creation of a Palestinian state- who want to keep Israeli settlers in the West Bank forever.