JERUSALEM — Just a few days ago, Yair Lapid was a political rookie making his first foray into Israeli elections with a newly formed centrist party. He awoke Wednesday as a major power broker.
Israeli pundits and journalists wasted no time anointing Lapid, 49, a possible heir apparent to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose conservative Likud Party delivered a disappointing performance at the polls. Lapid's new party, Yesh Atid ("There Is a Future"), won 19 seats, nearly overtaking Likud, which came in first with 20.
New King Is Crowned, blared one newspaper headline.
Despite Netanyahu's lackluster showing, he is still considered the front-runner to lead the next government. But it is certain to have a more centrist cast and is likely to pursue a more moderate course at home and abroad. And Lapid is virtually sure to play a key role.
Lapid and other political leaders huddled Wednesday to plan their next moves and prepare for negotiations on forming the next coalition government. With nearly all the votes counted, right-leaning parties that form Netanyahu's larger constituency were in a dead heat with center-left parties, with both blocs winning 60 seats each. Final tallies are expected today.
Netanyahu told reporters he hoped to form a broad-based coalition that would focus on Israel's domestic challenges.
It's less clear how, or whether, Israel's policies toward the Palestinians and Iran might shift under the next government, although Lapid takes a slightly more moderate approach to both.