Last year, at the time of The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference, Yair Lapid
was just a political candidate, crisscrossing the country asking where Israel’s
money was going.
A year later, as finance minister, he is in charge of
every shekel, and in his election campaign he reoriented the country’s
priorities away from security concerns toward domestic issues.
leveraged his achievement in the election to force Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu into a coalition without the ultra-Orthodox and obtain the critically
important, yet not so coveted, title of finance minister.
placed Lapid on its 100 most influential people
in the world list, and he topped
The Jerusalem Post’s 50 most influential Jews
, after not even making the list a
Lapid holds the key to Netanyahu’s government’s endurance
and he intends to take advantage of that status to ensure that the peace process
with the Palestinian Authority advances. He is a member of the security cabinet
and the ministerial forum that oversees talks with the PA.
But since he
became the man in charge of the country’s finances, it has not been smooth
sailing for Lapid. He had to make extensive budget cuts – at least temporarily
harming his middle-class constituency – and endure a difficult process of
choosing a Bank of Israel governor
. He has also faced a slew of economic
challenges as the nation continues to deal with high levels of poverty and
inequality. The Histadrut labor federation has proven to be a resilient foil to
proposed reforms that Lapid hopes will bring down the high cost of living. The
country’s sky-rocketing housing prices, which fueled the 2011 social protests
whose sentiments fueled Lapid’s election victory, have remained stubbornly
sat down with Lapid recently to discuss some of these
pressing issues.You said in an infamous interview after you led your
party to an impressive 19 Knesset seats that you believed you would be Israel’s
next prime minister. Do you still think so?
I think I should talk about
this less. I’ve never hidden the fact that coming into politics I thought of
going all the way, but I’m in no hurry. This government has plenty of juice. It
can last all four years. So far I did only the difficult, painful things a
politician hates doing. I will need some time to gain political profit from the
things we are doing now. So yes, but I am not in a hurry and not obsessed
with it.Do you regret accepting the finance portfolio?
I don’t regret
taking this job for a second. I entered politics to fight for Israel’s middle
class. What better place than the Finance Ministry? But I didn’t think my first
fight would be to prevent an economic collapse, and I didn’t know what
inheritance I would receive [from my predecessor, Yuval Steinitz].Please
respond to reports that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said privately that he
would prevent the full implementation of the Peri Committee recommendations on
drafting yeshiva students.
The law is the law, and everyone will follow
it. Ya’alon voted for it in the cabinet and the Knesset. He was part of the Peri
Committee. We built the law completely in legal cement. If we hadn’t, when the
old Tal Committee recommendations were disqualified by the Supreme Court,
everyone would have had to be drafted at 18. Our bill makes the process
irreversible. There might be those thinking of their future coalitions, but
there is no going back from this.Do you see your controversial bond with
Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett continuing?
I don’t see why not. Naftali is an
ally and a friend. We disagree on the peace process, but he says as long as we
haven’t started evacuating settlements, he can stay in the coalition. We still
talk almost every day.Are you concerned that the handling of the crisis
with the EU indicates that expanding settlements is a higher priority for
Netanyahu’s government than expanding the economy?
Since I joined the
government, no new settlement has been built.
Israeli citizens should be
supported. The settlers know that I think that in a future agreement they will
We are working tirelessly to explain to the Europeans that
what they are doing is harming the peace process, not helping it. They are
strengthening Palestinian extremists who believe that it is best not to do
anything on the peace process. But it is now looking like the EU’s Horizon
Program [a project of 70 billion euros for research and development to create
new growth and jobs from 2014 to 2020] will include Israel after all.Do
you believe a diplomatic agreement can emerge from the current peace process?
this peace process won’t work, we should start again and again. It may be
Churchillian, and if not, it should be: Never, never, never give up. As I said
in the campaign, we are seeking an honest divorce from the Palestinians, not a
wedding. We [in the Yesh Atid party] will push the process forward tirelessly.
Ministers get reports directly from [Israel’s chief negotiator and Justice
Minister] Tzipi Livni. I won’t get into details of what is happening in the
talks, because that would be irresponsible.
I would rather have a peace
process than a headline.Would you support reaching an interim agreement
with the Palestinians?
The conflict is not about borders, Jerusalem, security
arrangements, settlements, or Palestinian terror. It’s about hatred, pain,
mistrust and bad memories. We need a solution that concludes the ability to go
through these emotions. I don’t know if interim state is the name for it, but
time is one of the ingredients we need if we want wounds to heal.
leave it vague for now.
I’m not going to jeopardize the process to be
fancied by somebody or get invited to the right caucus. It’s too important to
me.Are you concerned that if peace talks break down there will be
another intifada that could harm the economy?
“Fears – economically and
otherwise – are never a reason to do nothing. We should overcome fears. But the
worst point economically was when the peace process was stuck. This is
being taken into consideration.”Where do you see the peace process and
the economy four years from now?
Economy and peace must unite – and they will.
Already a year-and-a-half from now, the economy will be better because growth
will be up and the deficit down. We have a train going in the right
I’m happy because optimism is part of the economy. Economics
is a social science. If people understand the economy is going the right way, it
will happen faster. In 1993, after the Oslo process began, international
companies came in and the economy was boosted. If optimism had a twin sister, it
would be hope.
I’m optimistic about the economy and hopeful about the
peace process. Moving to the economy, why has it taken so long to select a new
Bank of Israel governor?
Three candidates have already been approved by the
Turkel Committee responsible for vetting them.
We had, as you well know,
a streak of bad luck with the first two candidates we chose; and by saying a
streak of bad luck, I’m trying not to not have to say “farce.” A lot of what is
bad in the Israeli discourse came out through this. I understand the end result
of what happened; I don’t understand the amount of bad blood and even evil that
came through this.
The prime minister has invented a new English term
called “Turkelizing,” so we decided to “Turkelize” them before instead of after,
and we did that, and they finished a few days ago. We’re going to take a few
days and think about it and contemplate and make up our minds. If we were doing
it immediately, you’d be sitting here and saying, “Why aren’t you going through
the proper process of thinking and doing it so fast?”