Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s speech to the UN General Assembly and his call for a two-state solution has sparked a profound political controversy.
It is a position worth thinking about analytically and deeply, apart from the Israeli electoral conflict, which plays an obvious role in the internal debate on this and other issues.
A central question is: Does Lapid’s speech mean a breakthrough in the Israeli position on the conflict with the Palestinians or not? Actually, yes, whether or not he achieved the political goal of presenting his vision at the UN.
Let us also leave aside the examination of intentions and the search for metaphysics, preconditions, dimensions and goals.
Did Lapid choose the right time to bring up the two-state solution?
Bringing back the idea of a two-state solution is a merit for Lapid. It does not fly in the face of his calculations for the search of stability that both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples seek.
Whether or not former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke more emphatically about it at the UN podium in 2016, Lapid may have chosen the right moment to advance his vision, even if many say he chose the wrong timing. It is widely known that the two-state solution is a political option not included in any agreement or official document on the conflict.
But it remains an ingenious ideal solution, even if it is elusive because of the complexity of the details and the possible mechanisms of technical, legal, executive and political obstacles that many observers consider difficult for a compromise to overcome. The two-state solution is not just a fleeting buzzword.
It is so prevalent in conflict-related political literature, both international and Arab, that it has enormous legitimacy regardless of the position of the parties to the conflict. It remains a dream shared by the international community to break away from this chronic conflict. The term has nothing to do with a UN resolution on the Palestinian question.
Nor is it mentioned in international initiatives or even in the Oslo Accords. These are all formulas that refer to a negotiated settlement that is acceptable to both sides, Israeli and Palestinian. As for the Palestinian reaction to Lapid’s speech at the UN, it was on the negative side.
Some considered it a kind of “deception” and a political maneuver, although no one demanded tricks and deceptions from the man, and if he had only repeated platitudes, no one would have blamed him and his speech would not have attracted attention. Therefore, we believe that the simple revival of an idea that everyone claims has been made obsolete by events brings a new hope to the Palestinians.
This is not so much about political maneuvering, but about dealing with such situations and trying to make the best of them strategically, even if that comes across as wishful thinking to some. Wishful thinking can be a good thing, and big wins always start with a little dream.
I know full well that the idea of a two-state solution is very ambiguous, as I said earlier, with each side’s vision of it, especially when it comes to the devil in the details, such as the status of Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, water, mutual security, the border, the notion of the form of the Palestinian state on both sides, and other issues that involve a great deal of complexity.
But the analysis must begin on a positive note. Lapid is the first Israeli prime minister to address the UN about a two-state solution since 2016, and his speech was very carefully worded. It was really aimed at the public, not at politicians. In the upcoming elections, he wants the vote to revolve around this zero-sum bet: either Lapid’s vision wins or fails.
What Lapid says about a future “peaceful” Palestinian state is self-evident, and should not be over-interpreted. This is not a formal decision, but a statement of intent to draw from when the Israeli electorate votes.
Lapid’s speech in New York reminds me of a speech by the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, which Lapid made indirect reference to speaking of “peace to the powerful” and said in his speech to the UN General Assembly that Israel is capable of defending itself by virtue of its economic and military might.
But it also enables something else: to seek peace with the entire Arab world and with its closest neighbors, the Palestinians, he went on to say, arguing that peace is the most courageous decision one can make. This confirms that we will have six weeks of heated political debate before the November 1 elections.
It also means that the elections will be more of a referendum on the two-state solution, between supporters and opponents of this dynamic, now at a crossroads. It will either come center stage again, or be buried in oblivion as before.
I personally believe that the revived discussion of a two-state solution is a positive moment for a political solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. We must not forget that the neglect of the two-state solution by the US and Israel over the past few years has been a source of great concern to the Palestinian leadership, which had to stick to the Israeli proposal instead of questioning its seriousness.
What matters now is the kiss of life that has brought the idea back to the table, not the dispute over the intentions behind it or the demand for Lapid or others to recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. Everyone knows that this is a starry-eyed condition. It will take long negotiations to find a solution that satisfies both sides.
Asking Lapid or others to make immediate decisions also makes no sense given the complexity of the conflict and Lapid’s own position in the interim government, whose political composition and members’ positions are known to all.
Suffice it to say that prime minister Naftali Bennett was quick to declare that there is no point in reviving the idea of a Palestinian state. It should not be forgotten that Lapid’s UN speech contradicts earlier statements he made in January 2022 before taking office, in which he said he would not negotiate with the Palestinians even after becoming prime minister.
He also ruled out a meeting with PA head Mahmoud Abbas, saying there was no political reason for it. However, he did call Abbas last July, the first such call by an Israeli prime minister since 2017. We are looking at remarkable positions that should not be reduced to rejection and contempt.
Lapid’s speech to the UN was not so much political marketing as an expression of an ambitious strategic vision that has yet to be tested. But it is, by all accounts, significant. Lapid’s speech on the two-state solution is important regardless of the outcome of the upcoming elections in Israel.
I also liked one Israeli professor’s comment on this speech. “Despair can be turned off by hope,” he noted. If Lapid does not resign his position in the next few months in anticipation of the high political cost, all will have no choice but to wait for the vote’s verdict, which could close the curtain on the proposal or herald a volte-face.
Either way, what this development confirms is that the Palestinian leadership does not understand the conflict environment better and is not leading its cause in the interest of the Palestinian people.
The writer is a UAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate.