PARIS – Prime Minister Yair Lapid has the potential to make historic peace with the Palestinians, French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday during the premier’s visit to the Elysee Palace.
Macron called for “a return to political dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis.”
“I know you can have a historic figure by launching a process that has been stopped for so long,” he said.
Referring to the long-standing friendship between the leaders, Macron added: “I know from personal experience that you can be that figure. You have the agenda; you have the commitment to peace.”
“I know from personal experience that you can be that figure. You have the agenda; you have the commitment to peace.”Emmanuel Macron
Lapid avoided mentioning the Palestinians in his remarks, focusing instead on the Iranian nuclear program and Hezbollah’s threats to Israeli natural-gas fields.
PM Lapid's first trip abroad
יוצא לביקור מדיני ראשון כראש ממשלת ישראל בצרפת pic.twitter.com/8pHOoutHJu— יאיר לפיד - Yair Lapid (@yairlapid) July 5, 2022
The visit to Paris was Lapid’s first trip abroad as prime minister and a reunion of two politicians who have been friends for nearly a decade, since Lapid was finance minister and Macron was economy minister. They bonded over forming centrist political parties and have discussed ways to promote centrist politics. They are in regular contact over the WhatsApp messaging application.
Macron grinned when Lapid arrived at the Elysee Palace in a Renault hatchback, and they embraced, walking into the presidential building with their arms around each other. The French president was effusive in his praise of the new Israeli prime minister.
“You chose France as your first visit abroad, something I found very moving, dear Yair,” Macron said. “The people of Israel are lucky to have you as their new prime minister.”
“It’s a true pleasure for my first visit as prime minister to be to a country and president that is a close friend,” Lapid said.
Following his meeting with Macron, Lapid was asked whether he would meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Lapid said he would not “have a meeting for the sake of a meeting. I would only do it if there was a chance of a positive result for Israel, so it is not at the agenda for the moment.”
Lapid said, however, he would not rule out such a meeting.
The Palestinian issue came up in the meeting with Macron, but it was only a small part of the conversation, a source in Lapid’s entourage said. Macron understands that the makeup of the current Israeli government does not allow for major developments on that front, the source added.
Iran nuclear deal
Macron said the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 Iran deal that Western powers have yet to give up on reviving, “will not be enough, but I do believe we need to keep Iran below the nuclear threshold.”
“We need to continue talks with the Americans and negotiations on their regional and ballistic activities,” he said.
Lapid said Israel and France “may disagree about what the content of the agreement should be, but we do not disagree on the facts: Iran continues to violate the agreement and develop its program, enriching uranium beyond the level it is allowed to and removing cameras from nuclear sites.”
“We need to continue talks with the Americans and negotiations on their regional and ballistic activities”Emmanuel Macron
“In 2018,” Macron was “the first leader to talk about the need for a new deal with Iran, with no expiration dates and coordinated international pressure to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-threshold state,” he said.
Macron made the 2018 proposal after then-US president Donald Trump left the JCPOA, and he has supported US President Joe Biden’s efforts to return to it.
“The Americans and Europeans think there will not be an agreement with Iran,” Lapid said following the two-hour meeting. “If there isn’t an agreement, we need something else.”
The JCPOA is so favorable to Iran, “if Iran doesn’t agree to this, then nothing will happen unless there is a credible military threat,” he said.
Israel also advocated for the parties to the JCPOA to institute snapback sanctions – a reinstatement of sanctions lifted if Iran violates the agreement.
“I tell this to the French, the Americans, everyone,” Lapid said. “It’s time for snapback. We need to bring it to the UN Security Council.”
Three days after the IAF shot down three drones that Hezbollah directed toward the Karish gas field in the Mediterranean Sea, Lapid said: “Israel will not sit back and do nothing given these repeated attacks.”
“Hezbollah is a terrorist group that threatens Lebanon’s stability and sovereignty, threatens Israel’s security and harms the national interests of Lebanon,” he said at the Elysee Palace.
Lapid showed Macron intelligence on how Hezbollah is threatening Lebanese and French interests.
“This is connected to the attack on the Karish gas rig, which we feel is an attack on Israeli sovereignty,” Lapid said in a press briefing following the meeting. “We want to prevent this from continuing so we don’t have to use military force.”
Macron said Lebanon’s stability is a key element of regional stability.
“We will continue to help get Lebanon back on its feet,” he said.
Macron called for the continuation of negotiations between Israel and Lebanon on their maritime border. “The countries must reach an agreement to develop energy resources,” he said.
The energy company Total, which is partially owned by the French government, has the rights to gas exploration in Lebanon’s economic waters, an Israeli official said, adding that settling the maritime border dispute with Israel would also benefit France.
Macron also spoke of France’s strong relationship with Israel.
“You can count on France’s commitment to Israel’s security and to make sure the region enjoys stability and security,” he said. “You can count on my commitment to fight our common enemy – terrorism… Never forget that here, in Paris, you have a friend committed to Israel’s success in the region.”
Lapid and Macron said they wanted to enhance the strategic dialogue between their countries on military and technological cooperation.
“There had been a feeling that the days of war in Europe are over, but Ukraine showed us that isn’t true,” Lapid said. “France is going to strengthen its army, and we have a lot to contribute on this front.”