Finance Minister Yair Lapid said Jerusalem should not be the capital of any future Palestinian state in an interview with The New York Times published on Sunday, his first interview to the foreign media since being elected.
“Jerusalem is not a place, Jerusalem is an idea,” Lapid told the Times, adding that “Jerusalem is the capital of the Israeli state.”
The finance minister told the Times that land in east Jerusalem should remain in Israeli control, according to the 1967 lines, stating “we didn’t come here for nothing.”
In regard to Israeli settlements, Lapid said he would make no move to obstruct their "natural expansion" in the West Bank.
While reportedly avoiding security issues, such as Iran, the finance minister also expressed to the Times his hope that US Secretary of State John Kerry's upcoming visit to the region would "jump-start" the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians.
Lapid vowed “to be proactive about this and do everything in my power to contribute to the discourse,” but noted he had not met with any Palestinian leaders since taking office nor had he spoken with Kerry since his visit to Jerusalem in March.
Despite this, the finance minister expressed skepticism of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians and of their desire to actually have a state.
“Israelis want peace and security and Palestinians want peace and justice — these are two very different things, and this is the real gap we have to close,” he said.
Lapid also rejected claims that he has faltered since embarking in his new political role, while asserting that although he is "in no hurry," he still has hopes to succeed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
“Making hard choices always seems to be mistakes, but these are not mistakes,” he said. “If you want to change a country, you’re going to be bumped every now and then.”
Raising the ire of the opposition
Lapid's New York Times interview raised a lot of criticism from the opposition on Monday.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On said Lapid was not only Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's "economic successor" but also his "diplomatic twin."
"Whoever thinks they could reach a diplomatic arrangement without halting the settlement construction and without dividing Jerusalem, adopts Netanyahu's policies," Gal-On said.
Labor MK Merav Michaeli also accused Lapid of "working for Netanyahu."
"And this time, [he's not just working] against the working women and men, but also against peace, in complete contradiction to the promises he made before the elections," Michaeli said.
"Either he had no clue about anything before the elections, or he thinks Israelis don't read English, or he simply lied. I'm not sure which option is worse," she added.
Labor MK Omer Bar-Lev accused Lapid of being a "conservative-rightist" and of leaving Hatnua leader and peace negotiator Tzipi Livni alone in the "battle field" of the peace process.
"Lapid pulled a rabbit that was hidden deep within his black suit and left Livni alone in the battle field. After promising his voters he would act for the peace process, he reveals himself to be a conservative-rightist, just like the great majority of the members in the current government who come from parties that raised the banner of perpetuating the freeze in talks," Bar-Lev said.
"If Lapid thinks Isawiya, Shuafat and Beit Hanina need to be a part of the Jewish state, and that stopping settlement construction is an American, European or Qatari interest, then our finance minister must be more in tune with the settlers than reality," he added.
Health Minister Yael German, a former member of Meretz, Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri, a supporter of the Geneva Accord, and Yesh Atid faction chairman Ofer Shelah have taken stances further to the left than Lapid on settlements and talks with the Palestinians.
Yesh Atid MK Ronen Hoffman attempted to explain Lapid's message at the launch of the 19th Knesset Caucus to solve the Israeli-Arab Conflict.
"I'm here to prove wrong those who say Yesh Atid thinks there's no partner for peace," Hoffman said. "We're for a two-state solution and immediate peace talks without preconditions."
The MK also said that no one peace plan is perfect, and suggested combining elements of different initiatives.
Hoffman also praised peace NGOs that encourage grassroots support for peace, which he said "cannot come from a small group of leaders without support from the population."
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.