Opposition leader Yair Lapid would be honored to be prime minister of Israel after the March 23 election, he said for the first time in an interview Monday night with Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief Yaakov Katz sponsored by the Tel Aviv Internationals Salon.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has referred to Lapid as his opponent in the race for prime minister throughout the election. Lapid continued to sidestep whether he is running against Netanyahu for the premiership.
“I think it’s time for a generational change in Israel,” Lapid said. “I am ready. The party is ready. We have the right plans, the right abilities and experience. I served in various positions that prepare you. If I had the chance, of course I would be more than honored to serve my country this way.”
Lapid said he and his Yesh Atid Party’s candidates are more than capable of taking the reins next week, but the election was not about the fight between Netanyahu and himself.
“Netanyahu is trying to drag me into a fist fight about who will be prime minister,” Lapid said. “He is doing this because he wants to make sure Israelis don’t understand the more important issue of what government we will have. The only government he has to offer is with [United Torah Judaism’s Ya’acov] Litzman and [Religious Zionist Party candidate Itamar] Ben-Gvir, homophobic and racist people. He doesn’t want to talk about it. I am not willing to give him this. This is why I am toning down this.”
Lapid criticized prime ministerial candidates Naftali Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar for openly campaigning for the post during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I do not claim to not have personal ambitions,” he said. “It is wrong to sit in TV studios and describe your magnificent qualities to be prime minister when people are unemployed and dying. You need to rise to the moment.”
While Lapid credited Netanyahu with bringing Israel vaccines, he downplayed the achievement, saying: “Netanyahu is good at short-term projects. He is not a good manager.”
Regarding the Palestinian issue, he said he is “willing to recognize a Palestinian state, but not give them everything they want.”
There would be no right of return for Palestinian refugees, Israel must remain the most powerful country in the Middle East, and the Palestinian state would have to be demilitarized, he said.
Regarding Iran, Lapid said he was against the agreement reached by US president Barack Obama’s administration, despite repeated claims by Netanyahu that he had supported it.
“He is lying, and he knows he’s lying, because we worked together against it,” Lapid said. “His lying on this hurts Israel’s security.”
If elected, he would have real dialogue with the Biden administration on Iran, Lapid said. He criticized Netanyahu’s speech in Congress against the Iran deal, calling it “a huge mistake” and “irresponsible.”
“We were nowhere near the table when decisions were made, because they were angry,” he said. “We have angry Democrats with long memories.”
When Donald Trump was US president, Netanyahu “affiliated himself completely with a certain stream of the Republican Party,” Lapid said.
On matters of religion and state, he called for freedom of religion and civil marriage.
Lapid joked about the challenges of his shift from journalism to politics nearly a decade ago.
“I am making a quarter of what I made before and working at least three times as hard, but at least everybody hates me,” he joked.