WASHINGTON – Yair Lapid on Tuesday congratulated Kadima on returning “home” to the Likud and argued that the creation of a national unity government strengthened his new position as the head of the only centrist party in Israel.

“Kadima came back to be what it has actually always has been, which is part of the Likud,” Lapid charged during an address to the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement in Atlanta. “They came back home and I want to use this opportunity to congratulate them on this reunification.”

Lapid’s new Yesh Atid party was polling at upwards of 11 Knesset seats had elections been called for early September, as had been expected until early Tuesday morning.

While analysts have been interpreting the national unity decision as a significant setback for the emerging politician, Lapid contended that the anticipated delay of more than a year before elections will allow him to organize and build his constituency.

“We are now the only centrist party,” he told the Conservative rabbis he was addressing. “We became the sole representative of the majority of the people of Israel.”

Now, he said, “we are going to campaign to unite all sane forces.”

In his remarks, Lapid laid out some of the social issues he sees as central to his platform and to the interests of US Jewry.

He said that the “Rotem Bill,” which would give the Orthodox rabbinic authorities in Israel more control over conversion, must “disappear”; civil marriage must be implemented; and that he would do everything in his power so that women could pray at the Western Wall wearing tallitot.

“Israel cannot be the only country in the Western World that has no freedom of religion for Jews,” he said.

Asked in the question and answer session after his speech about security, Lapid stressed the importance of the government working towards a two-state solution.

He said the Palestinians had made many mistakes, but that Israel still needed to be trying to negotiate a peaceful resolution in the shortest time possible.

“We have to be near this table, and we’re not anywhere this table right now,” he said.

In response to a question about what he would be doing now that elections were postponed, Lapid answered: “hard work.”

He characterized the additional time before elections as helpful because with a large 94-seat coalition there would be very few voices of opposition – a “huge vacancy” in the Israeli political center that he would fill.

“The last person who had such a coalition was Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania,” he said to laughter. “There’s not a lot they can say against the government if they’re in the government, and we’re going to be the clear voice of the people.”

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