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Opinion | Israel's centrist 'Party of the Future' has a chance to shape foreign and domestic policy

By Greg Dick
On February 4, 2013

December 2010, a frustrated Tunisian man, Mohamed Bouazizi, in an act of protest doused himself in a flammable liquid and set himself ablaze. This act of self-immolation was the spark that ignited the revolutions that gripped the attention of the western world.

One after the other, the governments of Tunisia and Egypt fell to enterprising youth who harnessed the power of social media and tapped into the frustration of a marginalized group of citizens to effect change.

In the case of Libya, battle-hardened rebels with the help of NATO ousted their oppressive leader through force.

With these gripping stories coming out of North Africa it's easy to see why in 2011 all eyes were on the Arab Spring.

Still while the world watched the Mubarak and Gadhafi regimes fall, in Tel Aviv there were the rumblings of political change starting to take hold in Israel.

Thousands packed the streets calling for an end to the social injustice that had left them with higher taxes, higher housing prices and less than stellar health and education systems.

It was out of this populist movement that the Yesh Atid Party found its base.

Also known as the Party of the Future, headed by former journalist Yair Lapid, the party won 19 seats in the 2013 parliamentary elections.

The son of a Holocaust survivor and a respected government official from the secular Shinui Party, Lapid campaigned on a platform that promised to look out for the middle class and make the Israeli government more efficient.

Having performed better than expected in the elections, Lapid's centrist party with its diverse representation is well poised to do just that.

Including an American-born ultra-Orthodox rabbi, a modern Orthodox educator, a former mayor and the former Jerusalem police chief Mickey Levy, the Yesh Atid Party is now the second largest party in the Knesset.

Second only to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Consolidation Party, the centrist Yesh Atid Party and Mr. Lapid will have a real chance to shape both the domestic and foreign policy agendas of Israel as Netanyahu looks to build his governing coalition.

On the domestic side of things, this means that there will be a real push to end the military service exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox males studying scripture.

There would also be a real push to reduce the number of ministers in the government while also addressing the rising costs of housing.

The foreign side will be where things get interesting as far as the U.S. is concerned.

Currently, Israel is watching closely as Syria becomes more and more unstable, as Morsi loses control in Egypt and Iran moves closer to developing nuclear capabilities.

Netanyahu has made it clear that stopping the threat of a nuclear Iran remains priority number one.

However, in the past week there has been a growing concern about the state of play in Syria.

Currently the Israelis are monitoring the situation in its neighbor to the north, as the movement of large stockpiles of weapons-including chemical weapons-represents a real threat to its citizens.

In fact in the past week, the airstrikes carried out on a weapons convoy in Syria near the capital city of Damascus were rumored to be carried out by the Israeli military.

While what happens in Iran and Syria will play out in the weeks and months to come, the most interesting potential change in policy will be how the rise of the Yesh Atid Party impacts negotiations with the Palestinians.

Even though Lapid's stance on the issue during the campaign lacked the concrete specifics needed to work a deal, the Yesh Atid Party could help to grease the wheel.

This could lead to direct talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Only time will tell how the new government coalition formed between the Yesh Atid Party of Mr. Lapid and the Likud Party of Mr. Netanyahu will impact the state of Arab-Israeli negotiations and the numerous domestic policy challenges facing the Knesset.

One thing is clear though-the new centrist party will certainly play a vital role in shaping that process.

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