Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu indicated that he would accept a request to hold a regional diplomatic conference of Israel and moderate Arab states in an effort to bring about Middle East peace, Finance Minister Yair Lapid said Sunday at an press conference in English organized by the Government Press Office.
Netanyahu was part of the Israeli delegation to a similar conference in Madrid in 1991 when he was deputy foreign minister.
“I discussed it with the prime minister and brought it up at the cabinet meeting and there was a general feeling that this is a good idea,” Lapid said, answering a question from The Jerusalem Post.
“The prime minister was positive about the conference and I am optimistic [about advancing the idea].”
Lapid said he had also discussed the idea with German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier and that he would raise it in a meeting next week with Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende, who will chair a conference of donor countries to the Palestinians that will discuss rebuilding the Gaza Strip next month.
“We cannot and will not let this cease-fire be a countdown to the next round of fighting,” Lapid said. “If we don’t take diplomatic initiative, this is exactly what will happen.
At that conference the countries of the world will commit aid to rebuild and rehabilitate Gaza. Israel must act before the conference or Gaza will get support and Israel will get nothing.”
Lapid expressed confidence that holding a regional peace conference could provide the framework for a wider diplomatic horizon. When a reporter from The New York Times asked whether Netanyahu’s current coalition could deliver a diplomatic deal, Lapid said it was wrong to give up trying.
“There is an opportunity that is clear to almost everyone in this government,” he said. “We are talking to the Palestinian Authority, and this is a good thing. I’m pushing forward the regional conference.
We must and we will stay on the course this government was established with – that the two-state solution is the only solution. I still think we can advance it.”
Lapid said Gaza must be demilitarized to achieve the goal of bringing quiet to the residents of southern Israel.
“We fought an enemy with a value system opposed to our own,” he said. “We sanctify life. They sanctify death. They put their children in harm’s way in a sick attempt for propaganda.
Hamas knows the price they paid and they know the price they will pay if they attack again.”
Lapid said the progress of the Islamic State terrorist group (formerly called ISIS) was proof that Israel needs to prevent Hamas from getting stronger.
“We watched ISIS,” he said, “and we have no doubt we have to hit Hamas hard so they will not be able to do what ISIS did in Iraq and Syria.”