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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has again failed to form a government after four elections in the last two years -- and is facing trial on corruption charges. Newsday columnist and author of "Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars" Dan Raviv joins CBSN to discuss the opportunity for top opposition leader and former TV anchor Yair Lapid to create his own power-sharing plan.
VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: Political turmoil is escalating in Israel after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a government this week. Top opposition leader and former journalist Yair Lapid will now have a chance to create his own power-sharing plan, and hopefully end years of political gridlock. However, Netanyahu's political future remains uncertain as Lapid and other rivals try and oust him after four-- four-- elections in the last two years. On top of all that, he's also facing a trial on corruption charges, which Bibi Netanyahu denies.
Newsday columnist Dan Raviv is following the latest in Washington. He's also the author of "Spies Against Armageddon-- Inside Israel's Secret Wars." Dan, so much to unpack. First, tell us-- what can you tell us about Yair Lapid? Why was he chosen to try and form a government over other top politicians?
DAN RAVIV: Hi, Vlad and Anne-Marie. The reason, Yair Lapid's political party came in second in the election in March. So Netanyahu came in first. So the president of the country, usually a figurehead role, but very important after elections, the president of the country turned to Netanyahu and said, OK, your party, Likud, got the most seats in the March election. Therefore, you get first shot at trying to put together a coalition again.
Well, Netanyahu failed. He was given four weeks, and at best, he could get maybe 58 or 59 seats into a coalition. You need 61 for a majority of the Knesset. So that fourth election, again, no clear result. President Rivlin yesterday turned to Yair Lapid as head of the party that came in second, called Yesh Atid. There's a Future. Indeed, Lapid is a former TV anchor, and he's considered a centrist, moderate in almost everything. And now he has 28 days to try to put together a coalition.
And the thought is that Lapid really does have a chance because he's had a lot of talks in advance with parties on the right and the left. In Israel, the right wing generally means being tough on Arab issues, tough toward Palestinians, not wanting to give back the West Bank, captured by Israel in 1967. Lapid is centrist in all these things, but he'll need those right-wingers, and he needs the left wing. What do they have in common? They want to get rid of Netanyahu. So Lapid has partners. It could be one of those partners-- his name, by the way, is Naftali Bennett-- could turn out to be the prime minister, because, otherwise, how do you get Bennett in your coalition? Let him be prime minister. Pretty weird.
ANNE-MARIE GREEN: Well, I wanted to talk about that, actually, because it seems like Lapid has some-- is floating some really creative strategies in order to bring very diverse politicians under one tent. Can you talk about how he thinks he may be-- he may manage to hammer out a government where Netanyahu has failed?
DAN RAVIV: Right. Without getting into the weeds of Israeli politics, what's important, oh, the budget, which hasn't been passed by the government for years, who gets which ministry, here's the main point-- there's a coalition of Israeli politicians who want to get rid of Netanyahu. The reason we know that name, that we say it here on CBSN is Benjamin Netanyahu has been prime minister of Israel for 12 years. A lot of dramatic news was made over the years. He's had conflicts with the United States. He didn't get along with Barack Obama. He was a close friend of Donald Trump.
I mean, Netanyahu is a-- well, he's a superstar on the world political stage. But because he couldn't put together a coalition and so many Israeli politicians and, obviously, voters want to get rid of him and want to move on, that's why these lesser-known politicians have a chance. They say enough of Netanyahu. And then you add to that, as you said, he's currently on trial on fraud and bribery charges. So there's a big feeling in the country that his years are over, though friends of Netanyahu say never count him out. The opposition may fail in these 28 days, and then you have a fifth election in just a two-and-a-half-year period [INAUDIBLE].
VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: And Dan, how does Lapid play in Ramallah? How has this sort of controversial issue played a role in the election and its aftermath? But I'm curious what you're hearing from sources in the West Bank.
DAN RAVIV: Absolutely. West Bank Palestinians, who in general, of course, want peace with the Israelis, they don't want nonstop violence, but they're not getting what they want, which is a sovereign country, a state of Palestine. The notion is recognized by many countries around the world, not by the United States. And of course, Israel says it's a matter of negotiation. The Palestinians would have to agree to just a little territory for a little country that would be disarmed. So there haven't been negotiations for several years.
You'll recall that President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, came up with a peace plan that would have included a little, but prosperous state of Palestine with a lot of international aid. That went nowhere. The Palestinians were planning to have an election this month. That's been called off. They blamed the Israelis. The Israelis say, hey, it's not us, it's the divisions between Ramallah, as you put it, the former Yasser Arafat movement, the Al-Fatah movement-- they run the Palestinian Authority-- versus Hamas, a more radical party that runs the Gaza Strip. Did I use the word mess several times? [INAUDIBLE]
ANNE-MARIE GREEN: Dan, taking a look at the bigger picture here, how will all of this impact Israel's relationship with the United States, especially when it comes to both countries working together to tackle Iran's influence in the region and Iran's nuclear capabilities?
DAN RAVIV: No, yeah, that's a hot issue right now, Anne-Marie, because talks are taking place in Vienna, Austria, right, the countries that are still in the Iran nuclear accord of six years ago. They're negotiating with Iran, and the US is there kind of in a separate room. But we know the US is talking to Iran. What would be necessary to get the US back in? Because President Trump dropped out of that deal, saying it was not strong enough, a terrible deal. Iran, meanwhile, has been moving toward nuclear capability, but Israel, in secret-- it's kind of an open secret-- has committed sabotage and assassinations inside Iran to try to slow down the nuclear program.
The US is on Israel's side, yeah, broadly speaking, but the Biden administration likes the Iran nuclear deal and wants the US to get back in. So Netanyahu is a strong voice. As I said, a world superstar. He spoke to Congress in 2015, trying to tell the US don't do this. It means, frankly, that Obama and, more importantly, now Joe Biden don't really like Netanyahu. You know, maybe came over and overplayed his hand. So I think the Biden administration would prefer new leadership in Israel, saying that with new leadership there, and if the Palestinians would have their election and have new leadership, maybe there'd be chances for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Everything is kind of stuck. A new leader would be friendly toward the US, but wouldn't be as impactful and famous as Netanyahu.
VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: Dan, we love having you here to break down what is happening in Israel. It's just so refreshing and illuminating, and we really do learn a lot. And I'm really proud that we're able to have these conversations because we don't cover it enough here at CBS News, at least not on a linear platform. So this is great.
DAN RAVIV: Drop in anytime.
VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: Thank you, Dan.