The greatest tragedy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that everyone knows how it will end. We will divide up the region. Israel will return most of the West Bank, and the Palestinian flag will fly on public buildings in east Jerusalem...The only unanswered question is how many more people will have to die along the way. And so we will fight against the extremists on both sides, including our extremists, the settlers – Yair Lapid, Der Spiegel, May 8, 2008
Grave indictment of the Israeli voter
Jerusalem is not a place, it is the constitutive concept of Israeli identity and our most fundamental ethos... We will not divide Jerusalem. No matter what happens. If that eventually means there will be no resolution [of the conflict] then there will be no resolution. Countries do not conduct negotiations over their own capital – Yair Lapid, Wallah, December 27, 2014
Incredibly, these diametrically contradictory, indeed, mutually exclusive, political credos – one envisioning the inevitability of the division of Jerusalem, the other, the imperative of its indivisibility – were stridently proclaimed by the very same person, within the space of a few years.
Yet, equally incredibly, he has never been called upon to explain the irreconcilable disparity between these two declarations on a matter of such crucial national import, much less to clarify what induced the dramatic metamorphosis in his attitude toward it.
If this seems an angry article, that’s probably because it is. Very angry.
There is much that saddens, pains and angers me in the conduct of public life in Israel, and, particularly, the conduct of Israeli politics.
But there is little that infuriates me more that the arrogance and ignorance of Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party, and the shameful myopia and shameless mendacity he exhibits in many of his public appearances (or rather, performances).
His meteoric ascent into the senior echelons of national politics is, perhaps, the gravest indictment of the Israeli voter, reflecting a pernicious preference for gloss over gravitas, and for slick sound-bites over sober substance. In many ways, Lapid’s political success epitomizes the pervasive malaise afflicting the Israeli polity, precipitating the disastrous mismatch between the national leadership and the daunting challenges facing the nation.
Time after time, the electorate has fallen prey to the seductive illusion of some false prophet, with the gift of glib gab, who promises to whisk away the trials and tribulations of life by means of his personal charm or force of personality, only to have its naïve hopes dashed to pieces on the harsh rocks of recalcitrant reality.Demagogic drivel
So it was with Yair Lapid, who burst onto the political scene as the white knight of the ill-defined “middle class,” which he pledged to rescue from the economic ravages, allegedly inflicted on it by the nefarious settlers in remote settlements/outposts. It was here, he charged, “somewhere between [the settlements of] Yitzhar and Itamar” that vast sums of “money were buried...that could be used to reduce the number of school kids in classes, provide better health services, reduce socioeconomic inequality...for the Iron Dome, for Arrow-3 missiles and to enhance the capabilities of the IDF.” (Herzliya Conference, 2014).
This is demagogic drivel. After all, it is always possible to conjure up alternative uses for the resources allotted to any given purpose. Moreover, it is patently preposterous to suggest that if the residents of Yitzhar, Itamar or any other Jewish community across the pre-1967 Green Line were resettled inside it, say in the Negev or the Galilee, the cost to the taxpayer would be in anyway significantly reduced.
Given the paucity of Lapid’s knowledge, the narrowness of his perspective and the shortsightedness of his vision, it is little wonder his much heralded mission to enhance the lives of Middle Israel met with little success. Indeed, within a few months of his electoral coup in January 2013, he was already dubbed “the most disappointing politician of the year,” with several opinion polls indicating that up to 75 percent of Yesh Atid voters were disappointed with their party’s performance.Thinly disguised document of surrender
With his Knesset representation cut to barely half in the 2015 election, and his credibility as the champion of the average man in tatters, Lapid seems to be seeking other causes to adopt.
Lapid is apparently attempting to don the mantle of a statesman and formulate a grand strategy for Israel’s foreign policy and national security, apparently drawing on his “vast” expertise in international relations and “extensive” military experience.
(Readers will, of course, recall that Lapid did not matriculate at secondary school and spent his military service as a reporter for the IDF weekly bulletin, Bamahane.) Unchastened by bitter experience, unhumbled by gross inexperience, Lapid has, with characteristic brashness, embraced as a blueprint for his foray into the field of international diplomacy and military affairs, the idea of a “regional solution,” as embodied in the principles laid out in the Saudi Peace Initiative which later, when adopted by the Arab League, became known as the Arab Peace Initiative (API).
As I have pointed out in previous columns, the Saudi initiative is a thinly disguised document of Israeli surrender to the Arab world, which, by means of carefully crafted – and crafty – euphemisms, lays the foundations for the demise of the Jewish state. In exchange for ephemeral (indeed, unfulfillable) promises, it prescribes compressing Israel back into indefensible borders and strips it of all the accomplishments won in the 1967 Six Day War – and some of those of the 1948 War of Independence.Risible, ridiculous & reckless
It is so ridiculously risk-fraught, so risibly reckless, that it is staggering that any responsible public figure in Israel could suggest considering it – even to save his/ her sagging political future – particularly in light of the developments that have taken place since it was first proposed in 2002.
As a reminder to readers, the API calls for: “(a) Complete withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the 4 June 1967 line...; (b)... a just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees to be agreed upon in accordance with the UN General Assembly Resolution No. 194 [generally interpreted as recognizing the Palestinians’ ‘right of return’]. (c) ...the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since 4 June 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
In return the Arab states will: “(a) Consider the Arab–Israeli conflict over, sign a peace agreement with Israel, and achieve peace for all states in the region; (b) Establish normal relations with Israel within the framework of this comprehensive peace.”
So there you have it. The basis for Lapid’s master plan: Withdrawing to the 1967 borders, surrendering the Golan (to whom?); dividing Jerusalem; recognizing the Palestinian refugees’ right of return – all this in exchange for “normal relations” and “comprehensive peace” with the war-torn, blood-drenched Arab world, which today, cannot even conduct “normal relations” between (and within) its constituent states, never mind implement a pan-Arab “comprehensive peace” among them.
In a transparent attempt to portray himself as prime ministerial material, Lapid chose to reaffirm his perverse predilection for the API this Sunday at Bar-Ilan University, where Benjamin Netanyahu made his injudicious 2009 address, accepting the notion of Palestinian statehood – a grave error, which has hounded him ever since.Harangue of errors, inaccuracies and non sequiturs
Lapid used the Bar-Ilan platform to excoriate Netanyahu on a wide range of issues, from his handling of the 2014 campaign in Gaza, through his failure to block the Iran nuclear deal, his relationship with the Obama administration, to his neglect of the Saudi initiative.
It would take an entire volume to exhaustively enumerate and analyze the full range of errors, inaccuracies and non sequiturs that peppered Lapid’s harangue. I will confine my attention to some of the most glaring and galling.
The center piece of his “vision” was, as mentioned, the notion of a regional solution, based on the tenets of the API. Listening to him expound on it, one might well be excused for believing that Lapid was locked in some time warp, in a parallel universe with an ISIS-devoid, pre-al-Nusra Middle East.
With rhetoric strongly reminiscent of the disproven delusion of a “New Middle East,” originally articulated by Shimon Peres in the heady days of the post-Oslo euphoria, Lapid sallied forth with a suggestion for convening “A regional summit as the opening salvo for a comprehensive regional agreement,” adding, “The summit needs to be based on a joint statement confirming that it will lead to a regional agreement.”
Gee! “A joint statement”! That is sure do the trick! What a stroke of genius! Wonder why no one thought of that before...
It would be intriguing to know whether Lapid envisages countries such as Syria, Iraq, Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon and war-torn Yemen participating in such a “joint statement.”
Endorsing the unacceptable?
Endeavoring to appear soberly circumspect, Lapid acknowledges that the API has certain “problematic clauses,” which he “cannot accept.” Yet, he insists, “even if we do not agree with every word in it... it still can serve as an appropriate framework for negotiations.”
This is difficult to comprehend, because every one of the cardinal elements of the API categorically negates the stated positions of Lapid and the declared platform of his Yesh Atid party.
Thus, while the API calls for Israeli withdrawal from the Golan, the party’s platform states baldly that “Yesh Atid strongly opposes any negotiation over the Golan Heights, which are an integral part of the State of Israel.”
The API calls for Israeli withdraw to the pre-1967 lines, while Yesh Atid calls for significant changes to those lines, to include “large settlement blocs (Ariel, Gush Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumin) within the area of the State of Israel,” and presumably sufficient territory to ensure secure access to/from these areas.
The API calls for a division of Jerusalem and establishment of east Jerusalem as the capital of a sovereign Palestinian state, while Yesh Atid’s platform resolutely determines that “Jerusalem will remain united under Israeli sovereignty... Jerusalem is not merely a place but the center of Jewish-Israeli ethos and the holy site to which Jews lifted their eyes for generations.” No kidding.
Not a question of every word, but any word
Finally, the API calls for a “just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees... in accordance with the UN General Assembly Resolution No. 194,” which states “the refugees wishing to return to their homes...should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date...” and, in effect is an acknowledgment of the Palestinians’ “right of return.”
On the other hand, Yesh Atid strongly rejects any such acknowledgment and unequivocally declares “the question of the refugees will... under no circumstances be settled in Israel.”
Clearly, then, when Lapid tries to gloss over the glaring inconsistencies between the positions he pledged to voters and the core elements of the API by saying “one does not have to agree to every word,” he is grossly understating the discrepancies between the two. Indeed, in reality, it appears, that it is far more likely that Lapid/ Yesh Atid would not – or at least should not – agree to any word.
And if Lapid/Yesh Atid are bound by their pledge to the voters to reject every core tenant of the API – Golan, 1967 borders, Jerusalem, refugees – how could the API possibly be “an appropriate framework for negotiations”? Yet for Lapid to hold totally opposing – or, at least, totally incompatible – positions, simultaneously, on any given subject does not seem to trouble him much.Thankfully left unanswered.
Lapid laments, “Israel should not have left [API] unanswered for 13 years.”
He is of course totally wrong.
Indeed, it is just as well that it was left unanswered, or today Israel could well have found itself with al-Qaida affiliates deployed on the Golan, ISIS forces perched on the cliffs overlooking Tiberias, and an assorted array of Islamists extremists entrenched mortar-distance from Ben-Gurion Airport and tunnel-distance from the Trans-Israel Highway (Route 6).
Sadly, analysis – and robust repudiation – of Lapid’s positions on Gaza, Iran, and US-Israeli relations, all equally porous and erroneous, must await future column(s).
So, allow me to end with the same lines with which I ended an earlier article I wrote on Lapid (“What an idiot,” Jerusalem Post, October 10, 2013): “The challenges confronting the country are daunting. To contend successfully with them we need leaders of substance and depth. Lapid does not fit the bill – not by a long shot.”
They are just as valid today as they were then.Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.org) is founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (www.strategicisrael.org).