Lapid clarifies stance after 'NY Times' interview

Yesh Atid leader faces opposition within party after telling 'NYT' settlement's won't be dismantled, J'lem won't be divided.

Lapid at Knesset 370 (photo credit: Uriel Sinai/Reuters)
Lapid at Knesset 370
(photo credit: Uriel Sinai/Reuters)
Yesh Atid favors an immediate return to peace talks toward a two-state solution, Finance Minister Yair Lapid clarified Monday.
Lapid set off waves of opposition within his party and others, after saying settlement construction should not be frozen ahead of peace talks and Jerusalem will not be divided.
“I need to clarify something after my interview with The New York Times. Whoever thinks we can have peace without a two-state solution is mistaken,” Lapid said at a Yesh Atid faction meeting.
At the same time, Lapid spoke of a need to be tough in negotiations.
“You don’t go into talks with just an olive branch, like the Left, or just a gun, like the Right,” he explained. “We need both.”
According to Lapid, Israel and the Palestinians must immediately return to the negotiations table “even if it’s controversial here, and even if it is hard to trust the Palestinians.”
“We will not abandon negotiations,” he emphasized.
In an interview with the Times published Monday, Lapid said he will “be proactive about this and do everything in [his] power to contribute to the discourse” on peace talks.
“Israelis want peace and security and Palestinians want peace and justice – these are two very different things, and this is the real gap we have to close. More and more people are saying to themselves and to others, ‘This is not going to happen, all we have to do is some maintenance and [then] we’ll see.’ Some people think ‘We’ll see’ is ‘God will help us,’ which is not a very tangible idea to me. Others say, ‘Some problems are not to be solved,’ which is a very sad idea,” Lapid stated. “I am saying what we need to do is something.”
Lapid said he opposes changes in settlement policy and will not stop their “natural expansion” or incentives for Israelis to move to Judea and Samaria. He called it “heartbreaking” that tens of thousands of Jews would have to be removed from their homes in “remote settlements.”
In the meantime, before any settlements are uprooted, an interim Palestinian state should be created in the West Bank, with final borders that will be set in several years, Lapid said.
The finance minister expressed hope that US Secretary of State John Kerry would “jump-start” the peace process when he arrives next week, while calling Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a “founding father of the victimizing concept of the Palestinians” who would be unlikely to reach a deal.
As for east Jerusalem, Lapid said it will remain under Israeli sovereignty, because “we didn’t come here for nothing.”
“Jerusalem is not a place; Jerusalem is an idea.
Jerusalem is the capital of the Israeli state,” he explained.
Several high-profile figures in Yesh Atid – including Health Minister Yael German, a former member of Meretz; Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri, a supporter of the Geneva Accord; and faction chairman Ofer Shelah – have taken stances further to the Left on settlements and talks with the Palestinians.
Shelah spoke out against Lapid’s assertions, saying, “Any intelligent person knows there won’t be an agreement with the Palestinians without [dividing] Jerusalem.”
“The solution is complex, and in the end it has to express Zionism and the Israeli ethos in relation to Jerusalem, as well as that of the Palestinians,” Shelah explained.
The Yesh Atid faction chairman pointed out that the last government already tried a settlement construction freeze, which was “unsuccessful and didn’t help anyone.”
At the same time, he said the welfare state that developed in the territories should not be perpetuated and building in areas that “will not be in Israel in the future” should not continue, with the exception of immediate needs such as nurseries for towns with many children.
As for turmoil within his party, Shelah said, “There won’t be a problem with votes. I joined Yesh Atid because it has a variety of opinions, and I think others did, too.”
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said at a Hatnua meeting that she had hoped Yesh Atid would fulfill its campaign promises and work toward peace.
“The text we read today, in such a sensitive week, does not contribute to the discourse,” she stated. “I hope there can be more of a partnership in the future.”
Earlier on Monday, MKs gathered for the launch of the 19th Knesset Caucus to Solve the Israeli-Arab Conflict, led by MK Hilik Bar (Labor).
Bar criticized Lapid for implying that Abbas is not a partner for peace, saying Lapid “disappointed us on the economic issue – don’t disappoint us on diplomatic issues.”
“You promised the act so we return to the negotiating table. Now fulfill your promise,” Bar said.
MK Merav Michaeli (Labor) accused Lapid of breaking his campaign promises not to be part of a government that does not start peace talks.
Yesh Atid MK Ronen Hoffman attempted to explain Lapid’s message at the caucus launch.
“I’m here to prove wrong those who say Yesh Atid thinks there’s no partner for peace,” Hoffman said.
“We’re for a two-state solution and immediate peace talks without preconditions.”
Hoffman praised NGOs that encourage grassroots support for peace, which he said “cannot come from a small group of leaders without support from the population.”
The caucus also discussed at length the Arab League leadership’s agreement to land swaps in a future peace treaty.
“Ignoring the Arab League peace initiative is not an option. The government gave no answer. All of the Arab and Muslim countries support the initiative, and we have been silent for the past decade,” he said.
Shas MK Yitzhak Cohen also spoke out in favor of the Arab League’s readiness to accept land swaps.
“The split in the Palestinian camp, between Hamas and Fatah, makes it difficult for them to form a state and raises concern that they’ll be a base for Iran. Still, it’s worth looking into the advantages of [the Arab League proposal]. We’d have peace with 1.5 billion Muslims.
We could bring the economy into this discourse with oil-rich nations,” he said.
Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who was invited to the caucus to present a different opinion, accused its members of not listening to the Arab League.
“There is no new initiative here. Egypt says so, and there wouldn’t be an Arab League initiative without an important country like Egypt,” he said.
“People need to face reality and stop being deluded that things here will be perfect and peaceful. What can we do, our forefathers lived in this land, in the Middle East. We’re not dealing with Switzerland or Finland,” he quipped.
Elkin also pointed out that there was no peace with the Arabs before 1967, when Israel was not in Judea and Samaria.
“The other side does not accept the existence of a Jewish state here,” he concluded.
“That is a fact.”
The Likud Beytenu deputy minister was booed as he left the stage, but Bar scolded the crowd.
“You want peace, you just want it in a different way than us,” Bar said to Elkin.
Peace advocacy NGO OneVoice co-sponsored the Knesset caucus launch.