Yair Lapid believes the time has come for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to leave office – not because of alleged corruption, and not because he broke the Western Wall deal, but because he failed at his life mission.
Lapid obviously rails against the alleged corruption, but he is waiting for an indictment, which could take time; and without seeing police recommendations to indict Netanyahu, he “does not want to be both judge and jury.”
And obviously he wants the Kotel deal the government authorized to be implemented “word for word.”
But Lapid says in an interview with The Jerusalem Post
at his Knesset office that the reason he believes Netanyahu’s career must end immediately has to do with the three key issues every past and present Netanyahu underling will tell you the prime minister cares about most: Iran, Iran and Iran.
“The main goals he set were stopping the nuclear deal, continuing sanctions and making sure the Iranians won’t have boots on the ground near our borders,” Lapid says. “These were Netanyahu’s biggest promises to the people of Israel. We have to admit they have not gone well.”
It quickly became apparent why Iran was the one issue Lapid’s senior adviser insisted be on the agenda ahead of the interview, a text of which will be provided in full to ambassadors and other dignitaries attending the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference at the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem hotel on December 6.
Lapid wants to be prime minister, and Israelis have been conditioned by Netanyahu for more than 20 years to believe that Iran is the issue prime ministers must deal with. Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay, by contrast, in a similarly lengthy interview for the conference, did not bring up Iran at all and steered the interview twice to Israel’s socioeconomic gaps instead.
“With Iran and Syria, we see a nightmare being fulfilled,” Lapid says. “It’s a huge failure of this government’s foreign policy.”
Lapid vigorously opposed the Iran deal, which was negotiated when he was in Netanyahu’s security cabinet.
Like Netanyahu, he still believes it can be fixed and applauds the Trump administration’s policy change on the issue.
“Trump was right about the need to tighten the screws on supervision and include Iran’s ballistic program,” Lapid says. “The president made clear the Iran deal doesn’t make the rest of what they’re doing kosher. Trump made clear the world should take action.”
As the interview was taking place, the heads of Russia, Iran and Turkey met in Sochi to carve up Syria among their spheres of influence. He shook his head as he lamented that the Russians were treating Iran as their legitimate partner in Syria.
“This government’s moves with the Russians have failed miserably,” Lapid says. “What is happening with Syria is everything we didn’t want. We need to change the rules of the game with the Russians, redraft the US into this, and make sure everyone knows that we won’t ask anyone before taking action inside Syria against the Iranians.”
Lapid summarizes Netanyahu’s handling of Iran by saying, “If you’re 68 and you’ve been there for four terms, you’re not going to do anything in your fifth, so it’s time to let the next generation run things.”
Lapid’s diagnosis of the Palestinian issue is similar. He does not think Netanyahu can make peace. But he says that, to be fair, he does not believe anyone can make peace under the current circumstances.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think Netanyahu can do it, because of his party and his coalition,” he says. I don’t want to go into his psychology. But if someone’s had a chance since 1996 to make peace and hasn’t, he won’t.”
Lapid suggests Trump seek a partial agreement that will not include Jerusalem and the right of return, moving the situation from its current complete standstill to a process in which the linchpin is the two-state solution and going carefully from there, putting Israel’s security needs first.
Since 2015, Lapid has endorsed a regional approach to solving the conflict.
He says the Saudis, Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf states minus Qatar can have a huge impact on the outcome, for two reasons.
“The regional approach enables the Palestinians to compromise on things they hate, knowing they have the Arab world’s backing rather than its usual criticism,” he explains. “They won’t be considered traitors to the Muslim world’s ethos by making compromises on an agreement. It would also ensure the Israeli public understands the huge incentive we have, that we’re not just giving but gaining on the economic and security fronts and [in] our ability to create alliances that we need opposite the Iranian penetration.”
Surprisingly, despite Lapid consistently finishing second behind Netanyahu in polls asking Israelis who is most fit to be prime minister, Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, has not yet made time to meet with him on his frequent visits to Israel. They have only “spoken niceties” on the phone.
“I hope [the lack of a meeting] is not coming from the Prime Minister’s Office, which would be unthinkable,” he says with a wry smile, adding a bit of empathy for Netanyahu’s situation.
“He has a real problem,” Lapid says.
“He cannot afford to be thrown into a conflict with a second consecutive US president, and therefore Trump has better leverage on him than Obama had. From what little we know, Trump’s plan will be based on the two-state concept. This corners him and his coalition.”
Asked whether he would prevent Netanyahu’s government from falling, if a real diplomatic process were to begin, Lapid points out a sign in back of him bearing his Yesh Atid Party’s organizational values. The top rule is “the good of the country is more important than the good of Yesh Atid.”
“There are things that are more important than my political ambitions,” he says.
Gabbay made a similar promise in his interview. He made news last week when he said he would be willing to enter a Lapid-led government. But Lapid declined to discuss the offer.
“That is the kind of political speculation journalists enjoy and politicians avoid,” former journalist Lapid says. “I sat here with Gabbay and had a conversation with him recently. But I don’t know him very well.”
Gabbay outraged Lapid when he said that “a Jew cannot really not believe in God.”
“My grandfather died in Mauthausen [concentration camp] two weeks before the war ended,” Lapid says. “Two years ago, I stood there in the gas chamber with my sister. He didn’t believe in God, but he was executed by the Nazis for being a Jew. Is Gabbay telling us he wasn’t Jewish enough for him?”
Lapid says that he – unlike his father, the late justice minister Yosef (Tommy) Lapid, and his grandfather – believes in God. He went to a Sephardi Orthodox synagogue on Yom Kippur and is initiating a new synagogue in his North Tel Aviv neighborhood.
But don’t buy the media analysis that he has falsely portrayed himself as becoming more observant in order to win votes.
“I’ve never changed a word of what I say on Haredim, and if people say I’ve been inconsistent, they’re not listening,” he says. “I’ve always said I have no problem with Orthodox being Orthodox.
But I want them to have basic math and English – because if not, I don’t know who will support them – and to go to the IDF, because the core idea of democracy is that everyone has the same rights and duties and can’t be exempt due to political maneuvering.”
Lapid suggests that uncompromising United Torah Judaism and Shas MKs do not well represent their constituents, who do not want conflicts with the traditional and secular Israelis. He gave as an example the Haredi parties reneging on the Western Wall deal.
“Compromise is healthy,” he says. “I want the Kotel deal as authorized by this government to be implemented word for word, as written by then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit, an Orthodox Jew, and approved by a government that includes UTJ and Shas. I want the state to recognize the Reform and Conservative movements. It is painful that in 2017 we are still discussing whether the government of Israel is obligated to Jews.”
As the interview was taking place, the Knesset Interior Committee was dealing with controversial legislation that would prevent the police from making public recommendations to the attorney-general on whether to issue an indictment.
Lapid believes the bill and others like it proposed by Likud MKs David Amsalem and David Bitan are intended to intimidate the police and state prosecution.
“The prime minister’s Rottweilers are not even doing a good job hiding their Erdogan-like attempts to intimidate with their disgraceful bills,” he says. “If Netanyahu will be indicted, he will have to quit, and if he doesn’t, we’ll take to the streets.”
Asked if a police recommendation for an indictment is enough to require Netanyahu to resign, he says, “I want to see the recommendations of the police, and then ask me again. I don’t want to be both judge and jury.”
Lapid is proud of a Midgam poll published by Walla! News this week that found that if Yesh Atid and Kahlon’s Kulanu Party ran together, along with former IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi, the list would win 33 seats, compared to 26 for Netanyahu’s Likud.
“The polls show we can win,” he says. “The Likud winning automatically is not true. We just need to present a more determined alternative. It requires hard work and campaigning the right way. But even better numbers are on the way.”