Lapid takes on Netanyahu: Israel needs to stand up to Russia

At a press briefing, the Yesh Atid chairman took on Netanyahu's policies with half a dozen countries, criticizing the prime minister's relaxed attitude with certain leaders.

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid
Israel should take a more muscular approach to Russia if it does not take Jerusalem’s interests into account in Syria, Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid said on Monday.
At a press briefing with diplomatic correspondents, Lapid tried to dispel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s frequent claims that the country’s relations with the world were enjoying a “renaissance,” and pointed to Russia as one area where Netanyahu’s policies have failed.
Lapid, who slammed the man he hopes to replace as not as “active” or “sharp” as he was five years ago, said that had anyone asked the prime minister three years ago what he would do if he was told that tens of thousands of member of Shia militias, including Iranian soldiers, would be on Israel’s border in Syria, he would have said that he would have bombed the country.
But the Shia militias are now on Israel’s borders, Lapid said, and Netanyahu has failed to prevent it.
Lapid said that rather than agreeing with Russian President Vladimir Putin that Israel would never surprise it in Syria, Netanyahu should have made clear to Putin  that if Russia did not take into account Israel’s security interests in Syria, Israel  would act against the Assad regime, something that is not in Moscow’s interests.
Lapid ticked off a number of areas around the world where not only has Netanyahu’s policies not led to a renaissance, but rather where the situation is very problematic.
This, he said, included the US.
While Lapid acknowledged that US President Donald Trump is “a miracle” when it comes to Israel, he added that as a result of Netanyahu’s policies, relations with the Democratic Party and American Jewry is in a crisis.
Things are so bad, he claimed, that US Ambassador Ron Dermer, “is a persona non-grata” with the Democratic party.
Lapid welcomed Trump’s decision to declare Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy from Tel Aviv,  but gave no credit for that to Netanyahu.
“We have a miracle with Trump, he accepts Israel’s narrative,” Lapid said, adding that this is welcome after “eight years of  Obama. I don’t know what we did to get this miracle, but we got it,” he said.
Lapid said that he welcomes Trump’s move even if it means that there will be no negotiations with the Palestinians.
“Jerusalem is not a core issue to be discussed in the negotiations,” he declared.  If as a result of this there would be no peace deal, he added, “then it won’t be.”
He once again reiterated a commitment to keep the large settlement blocs in Israeli hands in any future deal, but said that there would be a need to make “painful concessions” on the more remote, isolated settlements.
Regarding Israel’s improved ties with a number of Sunni states, such as Saudi Arabia, since the Arab Spring, Lapid said that Netanyahu was misleading the public by creating the impression that the ties could take off without solving the Palestinian issue.
He also said that Israel was not receiving enough from its relationship with Saudi Arabia, and that it was giving that country “quality intelligence” without getting paid in any hard diplomatic currency.
Lapid kept some of his harshest criticism for Netanyahu’s handling of Turkey, saying that the agreement with that country reached in 2016 to put an end to the Mavi Marmara affair was a mistake. He said that Israel should stop “humiliating itself” before the Turks, and come out once and for all to both support the Kurds and recognize the Armenian genocide.
Furthermore, he said it was ludicrous to even talk about building a natural gas pipeline to Turkey. “We are going to put our gas in Erdogan’s hands?” he said of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “That’s crazy.”
Lapid said that it was impossible, as Netanyahu does, to talk of a flourishing of international relations, when the country loses a vote at the UN – as it did last week – by a margin of 128 to nine, with 35 abstentions. He criticized Netanyahu for putting political appointments – Danny Danon at the UN, and Carmel Shama-HaCohen at UNESCO – rather than peopling those positions with professional diplomats.
The most important thing needed to improve the situation, he said, was to appoint a full-time foreign minister – Netanyahu currently serves in that role – and do away with all the different ministries that have cut into what the Foreign Ministry deals with, rendering it largely ineffective.