Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid said that he and his party have “made clear we’re against unilateral steps” in the West Bank and Jordan Valley.
Speaking to members of the Foreign Press Association at a briefing on Monday, he said that if his party is elected to form a government on March 2 and succeeds, it would not immediately apply sovereignty to areas beyond the pre-1967 borders – even if the United States says that it can.
“This is a process and the Americans have made it clear that this is a process and expect all sides to look at it as part of the process,” Lapid said.
His statements came one after US ambassador to Israel David Friedman explained in a press conference that a six-member joint US-Israeli committee was in the process of being formed to delineate a comprehensive map in preparation for annexation.
“The application of Israeli law to the territory which the [US peace] Plan provides to be part of Israel is subject to the completion [of] a mapping process by a joint Israeli-American committee,” Friedman wrote on Twitter Sunday. “Any unilateral action in advance of the completion of the committee process endangers the plan and American recognition.”
In January, when US President Donald Trump unveiled the peace plan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he would immediately apply Israeli law to the Jordan Valley and all the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria that the peace plan designates as part of Israel. Days later, he was forced to backtrack on this promise, amid push back from Washington.
“Neither in the plan itself nor in the discussions we had, and we had very thorough discussions with the Americans … nobody said anything about taking that sort of unilateral step,” Lapid said. “This is something that came from the prime minister’s office right after the proposal was presented, probably, it seems, for campaign reasons, and this is something you don’t do. It is too serious to become a stunt.”
He said that while Trump’s vision includes Israeli sovereignty over not only the Jordan Valley but also Area C settlement blocs, he understood that this move would be “part of an ongoing process of negotiations and we are against anything that is unilateral, because first of all, if it is unilateral, you don’t need a plan. You just go ahead and do it.”
But Lapid also had a message for the Palestinians: Saying “no” isn’t a policy, either.
“A speech like the one President [Mahmoud] Abbas is going to deliver at the United Nations this week won’t advance them anywhere,” Lapid said, referring to the speech the Palestinian leader is expected go give at the UN on Tuesday and a possible vote on a draft resolution condemning the US peace plan and settlement annexation. “The terror attacks we see this past week only take [the Palestinians] backwards.
“If instead of always automatically responding with violence and threats, they will take the time to delve deeply into the Trump plan, they will see that it contains many opportunities for the Palestinian people,” Lapid continued. “We have made clear that we’re against unilateral steps. We want to take the Trump plan and use it to build a better future in this part of the world.
We want to start a dialogue with them and we think this is the right platform to start this dialogue,” he added, noting that by Palestinian standards the Trump plan is “not as good as the one offered to them before.”
He reminded the press that a united Jerusalem is part of his party’s platform and belief.
“My father did not come here on a boat from occupied Europe for the Azrieli tower in Tel Aviv,’ Lapid stressed. “He came to the Tower of David in Jerusalem. A united Jerusalem is what we are and why we are here.”
Yet, he said the Palestinians should not come to the table with preconditions: “Half of Jerusalem, the right of return, ‘67 borders - if they don’t get it all they are not going to discuss anything. That is not a policy, it is a way to avoid painful compromises.”
He then admitted he is not confident that Israel has a partner for peace.
“I don’t know if this generation of the regime is capable of making the quantum leap, they need to make,” he said. “Maybe we will have to wait until post Abu Mazen,” he said referring to the Palestinian prime minister by his nickname. He referred to Abbas as “a grumpy old man who shouts and curses all the time.”
Does Lapid think that Trump’s decision to roll out the peace plan ahead of the March 2 election is “gross intervention” as Blue and White No. 1 Benny Gantz said in January?
“The White House evened the field by discussing the plan with us,” Lapid said. “By inviting Benny Gantz to the White House, the administration was making sure the public understands this is not a plan it was presenting to Netanyahu but the Israeli people.”
He said that while Netanyahu would like to make it look like he has a special relationship with Trump, it is not different than one would expect between a US president and prime minister.
“Recognizing the Golan Heights is not a pro-Netanyahu thing, it is a pro-Israel thing,” Lapid stressed. “Israeli-American relations are not dependent on Netanyahu.”