Did Lapid succeed at UNGA without a Biden meeting? - 5 takes

Prime Minister Yair Lapid, choosing statesmanship over showmanship, spent two days in New York at the same time as US president Joe Biden, but the two leaders never met during their trips.

 Lapid welcomed US President Joe Biden to Israel in July. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Lapid welcomed US President Joe Biden to Israel in July.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

In a diplomatic sleight of hand, Prime Minister Yair Lapid spent two days in New York at the same time as US President Joe Biden, without generating a flurry of domestic headlines as to why the two leaders did not meet.

They were not just in the same city. They were at the same event — the high-level opening session of the United Nations General Assembly — but somehow, they still did not cross paths.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was careful while in New York to be photographed standing between the US president and first lady at a reception at the American Museum of Natural History. 

A senior Israeli official shrugged off questions about the absent meeting, noting that US-Israeli relations were very strong and that Biden had just visited Israel two months ago and met with Lapid.

The official said this as if it was the most natural thing that they did not meet.

 WILL HE be smiling after the election? Yair Lapid this week at the Knesset.  (credit: AMIR LEVY) WILL HE be smiling after the election? Yair Lapid this week at the Knesset. (credit: AMIR LEVY)

If former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had gone to the annual UNGA event,and not met with the US president, it would have been seen as a crisis in Israeli-American ties.

It was part of Netanyahu's showmanship to believe that his trips to the US must be accompanied by a meeting with the US president. Indeed, during his last UNGA trip in 2020, he met with former US president Donald Trump.

For Lapid, such a meeting or even a photograph was not on the agenda. It was one of a number of examples of how Lapid chooses statesmanship over showmanship.

Netanyahu's dramatic flair was absent from the moment Lapid's limousine pulled up to the El Al plane that would take him to New York.

When traveling abroad, Netanyahu would walk slowly up to the cameras and issue statements to the media. Lapid prior to departing for New York sent his quotes to the media by WhatsApp. He skipped right over the limelight moment and simply boarded the plane.

 Israeli foreign minister and Head of the Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid walks next to Head of opposition and head of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu at the assembly hall for a special session in memory of Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, on November 8, 2021.  (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) Israeli foreign minister and Head of the Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid walks next to Head of opposition and head of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu at the assembly hall for a special session in memory of Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, on November 8, 2021. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Similarly, when Lapid delivered his first ever UNGA speech at an opening session, the drama was in the words, not the presentation. There were no poster boards or gimmicks. He didn't unveil secret information. 

If anything, he gave away the headline of his speech to the media, so his speech almost seemed anti-climactic. 

That he was not a Netanyahu-style orator, despite his television background, was clear from the first words he uttered from the podium.

But his success in New York was palatable. This trip was Lapid's first and most internationally significant one since taking office in July. The drama happened mostly on the sidelines, with an impressive array of diplomatic advancements, six of which are detailed below.

First Erdogan meeting since 2008

Lapid became the first prime minister since 2008 to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is a powerful regional politician. 

Prime Minister Yair Lapid meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at Beit al-Turki near the UN headquarters in New York. (credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)Prime Minister Yair Lapid meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at Beit al-Turki near the UN headquarters in New York. (credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)

This was not just about a handshake and a positive conversation.  It symbolized the renewed relationship that has been forged between the two countries in the last year.

Netanyahu held the premiership for 12 years, from 2009-2021, and never met once with Erdogan because the level of enmity between the two countries was so high that eventually full diplomatic ties were downgraded. 

Israel in the last year has been able to repair that relationship, reestablishing full ties only last month. 

The Erdogan meeting reflected Lapid's ability to expand Israel's diplomatic ties, particularly with counties like Turkey which have a majority Muslim population.

As a sign of the new diplomatic era between the two countries, Erdogan promised Lapid that he would visit Israel, although he did not set a date. 

Second King Abdullah meeting

Lapid didn't just meet with Erdogan, he met with King Abdullah II, a move that gave a heavy emphasis to the new prime minister's ability to communicate with his regional neighbors. It was a second meeting between the two men, even though Lapid has been in office for only three months, as it followed his visit to Amman in July.

Israeli-Lebanon maritime deal advances

US-brokered negotiations held on the sidelines of the UNGA make it more likely that an agreement would be concluded to set the maritime borders between the two counties, which do not have diplomatic ties. 

The deal is particularly important because both countries want to produce gas from abutting offshore reservoirs: Israel's Karish and Lebanon's Qana. The deal stands to help the economy of both countries.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati was public about his desire to close the deal at the UNGA, telling the plenum, "we have made significant progress and hope we will soon reach the desired outcome."

Great Britain weighs a Jerusalem Embassy

Newly installed British Prime Minister Liz Truss walked out of her meeting with Lapid and issued a statement from Downing Street about the possibility of relocating her country's embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Should she make good on her word, it would be a major victory for Israel in its campaign to secure international recognition that Jerusalem is the country's capital and strengthen its claim to the ancient Biblical city.

Most of the international community has withheld such recognition, pending the resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians. 

The United States became the first country to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem in 2018. Three other countries have since placed their embassies in the capital. If Great Britain followed suit, it would be the second world power to do so.

Israel reaffirms commitment to Palestinian statehood

Lapid earned immediate accolades from the United States when he stood on the UNGA on Thursday and affirmed his support for a two-state resolution to the conflict. It was the first time since 2016 that an Israeli prime minister has spoken of two states at the UNGA.  Lapid's language was also the strongest in support of Palestinian statehood since Ehud Olmert was prime minister.

It's a move that will likely raise his standing in the international community and help Israel push back against the apartheid campaign which claims that it only wants a Jewish state from the River to the Sea.