Lapid slams Left, Right over approaches to peace

Yesh Atid leader gives 1st major diplomatic-security speech, says party won't sit in gov't that won't return to table of peace process.

Yair Lapid 370 (photo credit: Ricardo Mallaco)
Yair Lapid 370
(photo credit: Ricardo Mallaco)
Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, speaking from the Ariel University Center on Tuesday night, said his party “won’t sit in a government that won’t return” to the peace table, in his first major speech of election season on diplomacy and security issues.
Lapid criticized the Right for only coming to the negotiating table with “a gun” and the Left for only coming with “an olive branch,” saying there must be a balanced approach.
He did not completely define what that meant, but he did imply that Israel must be ready to make sacrifices.
Lapid indicated that his primary goal was maintaining a Jewish majority, which could only be done by negotiating peace with the Palestinians based on the “two states for two peoples” vision, and not based on unilateral withdrawals or ignoring the Palestinians.
On the other hand, he did specify that he would not withdraw from any of the settlement blocs, from the Gush bloc to Ariel, the site of the speech.
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Citing Ariel as a red line and delivering his speech from there was significant, as while it is a large settlement it is also one of the settlements situated most deeply into the West Bank – and media reports have indicated in the past that some Israeli leaders did not view Ariel as a red line.
Lapid also said he had two “iron rules.” He would not recognize Palestinians’ right of return for their refugees. He claimed that part of his basis was that international law does not allow people to pass on the right of return to land to their descendants.
On Jerusalem, Lapid said that he would not divide the capital and would maintain sovereignty.
The language he used on this issue went further than the ambiguous refusal to divide it, which some politicians use as a code for leaving open the possibility of a city split by sovereignty, but not by a fence or concrete border.
However, he did not explicitly negate sharing some part of Jerusalem with the Palestinians.
He did add that Jerusalem is the “heart” of the country and that “the return to Zion” was speaking of a “return to the Tower of David” in Jerusalem, and not to “the Azrieli Tower” in Tel Aviv.
Lapid’s chief criticism of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the peace process appeared to be that he had “wasted four years” by not going to the table with a serious “intent” to make an agreement.
He excoriated Netanyahu for using the “there is no peace partner” argument as a cover for not taking the process seriously.
Lapid quoted former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin who said that we may not like the Palestinians, but we are stuck with negotiating with them, and cannot try to “make peace with the Norwegians” and achieve peace.
He also spoke directly to the settlers, saying that he recognized them as having an important role as a “bridge between past and future,” but, likely referring to protests against withdrawals, also said that they must accept government decisions “even if they disagree.” On Iran, Lapid chastised Netanyahu for overemphasizing the military option. He said that while the option must “remain on the table,” the focus must be on the goal of stopping Iran from making a nuclear weapon.
The Yesh Atid party leader implied that since Israel could only set Iran back, but not fully stop it, Israel must work harder than it has in the past to rally world support.
He added that “we must not do the world’s work, we must convince the world that it needs to act on behalf of all of us.” Some commentators have argued that only greater sanctions or a US strike can fully stop Iran’s weapons program.
While Lapid did not formally endorse this view, it appeared to be the direction in which he was going.
Lapid said that while peace with the Palestinians was a “strategic” interest for Israel and “not merely tactical,” another advantage to peace would be the world’s increased willingness to listen to Israel on Iran.
Several hundred people and media packed the Raab Hall at Ariel, with protesters trying to disrupt Lapid’s speech on both sides of the aisle. Right-wing protesters held signs saying “Lapid will throw me out of my house,” while a group of Meretz Youth volunteers held a demonstration outside of the auditorium. They then entered and threw fake bills with Lapid’s face on them on stage, implying he was a sell-out.
The Meretz spokesman did not know about the incident when asked, and said that the group of activists from Meretz Youth “carry out a lot of activities – both ones organized with us and ones that they organize on their own.”
Leading up to the speech, Lapid has been unveiling the names of many leading members of his Knesset list, holding multiple press conferences each week.
Meanwhile, Ma’ariv journalist Ofer Shelach quit his job on Tuesday. Media reports indicated he would be joining forces with Lapid, which the Yesh Atid spokeswoman did not deny, but she also refused to confirm it for the time being.
The spokeswoman also confirmed that Shelach had a heavy influence on Lapid’s policy speech in Ariel.
Ben Hartman contributed to this report.