Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid on Sunday called to restart the diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians, using a regional approach based on the controversial Saudi-Arab Initiative of 2002.
Lapid expanded on a diplomatic plan that he first revealed exclusively at The Jerusalem Post Conference in New York in June. He purposely chose Bar-Ilan University as the site of Sunday’s speech, because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed a Palestinian state at the religious Zionist university six years ago.
“A regional summit as the opening salvo for a comprehensive regional agreement is the most effective tactical and political tool to start the process,” Lapid said. “The summit needs to be based on a joint statement confirming that it will lead to a regional agreement.
The framework of the discussion will be the Saudi-Arab Initiative of 2002, which was reaffirmed in Riyadh in 2007.
The advantage of this initiative is that it doesn’t look to reach an agreement only with the Palestinians, but full and normal relations – diplomatic and economic – with the whole Arab world.”
Lapid stressed that he did not agree with every word of the Saudi initiative, which calls for the 22 Arab League member countries to normalize relations with Israel in return for the creation of a Palestinian state, as well as a withdrawal from the West Bank and Jerusalem, and a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. But he praised the initiative for giving Israel more of an incentive to pursue a diplomatic process with the Palestinians.
“Israel should not have left [the initiative] unanswered for 13 years,” Lapid said. “The lack of a response causes the world to think that we’re not really looking for a solution, only excuses to avoid an agreement.”
Lapid called for a regional summit under American auspices with two tracks: a direct Israeli-Palestinian track and a multi-lateral Israeli-Arab track that will deal with the questions of borders, security measures, the economy and the rehabilitation of Gaza in exchange for Hamas decommissioning its weapons.
“There are two basic principles which we must not stray from,” he said. “The first is that we must not repeat the mistakes of Gaza. The Palestinian state will not become a base for terrorism and rockets against Israel. We must maintain the security coordination which exists and which allows us into the West Bank to prevent terrorism against Israel. The second stems from the first – Israel’s security cannot be in the hands of others. It has to be in the hands of the IDF, and only the IDF.”
Lapid warned that if Israel did not reach an agreement with the Palestinians, at some point 3.5 million of them would ask to be absorbed into Israel, which he said would threaten everything that is important to the continued existence of the Jewish state.
“My father [former justice minister Yosef (Tommy) Lapid] didn’t move here from the ghetto to live in a bi-national state,” he said. “He moved here to live in a Jewish state. And if we don’t separate from the Palestinians, the Jewish character of Israel is at risk.”
Lapid criticized Netanyahu for preventing him from advancing a regional diplomatic approach when he served as his finance minister. He also attacked the prime minister for failing to provide security to Israeli residents, to stop Russian arms proliferation in the region, and to stop the Iranian nuclear deal in Congress.
“No-one takes seriously, and I say that politely, Netanyahu’s claim that he was seeking only a ‘moral victory,’” he said. “For months, his people told anyone who was willing to listen that he knows how to defeat the [US] president in Congress and then he lost, a crushing defeat. It wasn’t a defeat on points; it was a defeat by knock-out. There wasn’t even a need for a presidential veto, some of our closest friends in Congress voted for the deal. The position of our security establishment on supervision wasn’t even heard.”
Lapid said that rather than attack US president Barack Obama, he should have coordinated his strategy against the Iran deal with new Saudi King Salman. He even suggested that had Netanyahu handled himself better, Israel could have been invited to join the six P5+1 countries at the negotiating table with Iran. He warned that Israel’s problematic relations with the US were not temporary and would not be fixed by Obama leaving the White House in January 2017.
“He misread the map of the new United States which has changed dramatically in the past decade, turned the administration into an enemy, turned the Democratic Party into an enemy and turned the Israeli government into a satellite of the Republican Party,” Lapid said of Netanyahu. “He created a head-on confrontation with the administration at the exact moment we most needed the administration with us.”
Lapid said that had Obama come to the Knesset without coordinating it with Netanyahu and called for MKs to vote against Netanyahu and his policy, the country would be justifiably furious. But he did not mention that when Obama came to Israel in March 2013, he turned down an invitation to address the Knesset in favor of a speech to left-wing students in which he urged them to call for their newly elected government to make territorial concessions and stop construction in settlements.
The Yesh Atid leader, who considers himself a candidate for prime minister, suggested Netanyahu has not only failed to create a more secure Israel, but has instead spent the last seven years as prime minister harming Israel’s national security.
“Fear is not a policy. Sowing hatred and anxiety is not a policy,” he said.
Netanyahu’s number two in Likud, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, attacked Lapid on Twitter, saying that separations from the Palestinians means mass withdrawals from land and that the Saudi Initiative calls for a Palestinian “right of return.” Lapid responded directly on the social media site by saying that without his plan, Israel’s future as a Jewish state is in jeopardy.
When Lapid accused Netanyahu of sending Erdan to attack him, Erdan responded that it is not the prime minister who should be worried by Lapid’s plan but opposition leader Isaac Herzog, because “Lapid bypassed him on the Left.”
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