Lapid's maritime deal: Surrendering to Lebanon or confronting reality? - opinion

Israel's maritime border deal is not a surrender but rather an attempt at pragmatism that is sadly tainted by continual elections.

 Israeli Navy vessels patrol Mediterranean waters off Israel’s crossing at Rosh Hanikra, known in Lebanon as Ras al-Naqura, a border area between the two countries, this week (photo credit: JALAA MAREY/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)
Israeli Navy vessels patrol Mediterranean waters off Israel’s crossing at Rosh Hanikra, known in Lebanon as Ras al-Naqura, a border area between the two countries, this week
(photo credit: JALAA MAREY/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)

It is amazing what elections can do to a country. Nothing is off limits in the battle for political power. Nothing.

The deal announced this week to attempt to resolve the maritime border dispute between Israel and Lebanon is a case in point. A few weeks ago, opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu released a video clip accusing Prime Minister Yair Lapid of caving in to threats by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

That the video came out in the midst of intense negotiations meant nothing. That the IDF was openly alarmed that Hezbollah would attack Israel was also meaningless. There was an opportunity to attack Lapid and the government and Netanyahu took it.

He kept up that attack line on Sunday when – upon learning that a deal was imminent – he said that Lapid had “embarrassingly succumbed to Nasrallah’s threats” and is handing over “sovereign Israeli territory to Hezbollah.” Such a deal, he concluded, would not be binding on a future government that he hopes to establish after the election on November 1.

Concessions, surrender, not binding. Again, everything is permitted in a battle for political survival.

Netanyahu takes every chance to attack gov't

If it were the only time that this happened it might be somewhat tolerable. Unfortunately, it is not.

Another recent example came just two weeks ago when Lapid spoke at the United Nations and publicly announced support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Was anyone surprised by Lapid’s announcement? If you have followed Israeli politics for the last ten years, how could you be surprised? Lapid has consistently spoken about the need to separate from the Palestinians under a two-state solution since he entered politics in 2012.

 Israel's Prime Minister Yair Lapid addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York City on September 22, 2022. (credit: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)) Israel's Prime Minister Yair Lapid addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York City on September 22, 2022. (credit: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images))

Nevertheless, Netanyahu came out with all guns blazing. “We won’t let you establish a Hamas state on the border of Kfar Saba, Petah Tikva and Netanya,” Netanyahu vehemently declared.

That Netanyahu publicly expressed support for a Palestinian state just two years ago during the rollout of the Trump peace plan meant nothing. That he spoke at the UN four years earlier saying exactly what Lapid had said from the same podium was also meaningless.

See the pattern? Anything this government does is weak, is a concession or is aimed at the establishment of a terrorist state.

It is especially interesting when considering that it comes from a person who 11 years ago this month freed over 1,000 terrorists – some with blood on their hands – in exchange for a single Israeli soldier.

Many of those terrorists returned to their old ways of trying to kill Jews. As of last year, over 200 had again engaged in terrorist activity against Israel and nearly 100 were caught and returned to prisons in Israel.

The most prominent of those released under the deal was Yahya Sinwar, the commander of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and one of the leaders of the terrorists’ fight against Israel today.

Was that a concession? Did the release of Sinwar and so many others not contribute to the creation of a “Hamas state” in Gaza?

The same could be asked about the three rounds of prisoners that Netanyahu released in 2013 as part of an effort to revive peace talks with the Palestinian Authority. Nine years ago this month came the decision to release 26 out of the more than 100 prisoners that Netanyahu’s government decided at the time to free from jail as an act of goodwill to Mahmoud Abbas.

And what about the suitcases full of Qatari cash that Netanyahu agreed to transfer regularly from Israel to Gaza? Was that not extortion paid to Hamas to try and buy some calm? Was that part of an economic deal? Did Israel get something in return? Or was it a concession that showed weakness instead of strength?

Netanyahu knows Lapid is managing a complicated reality

No way, many people would answer. The reason? Because those were moves made by Netanyahu. They cannot be signs of weakness or concessions. They are pragmatic moves dictated by a reality, pressure and more.

When someone else does anything similar to any of this, those acts are manifestations of weakness and are concessions. Anyone who manages a complicated reality that demands paying a price is always weak. Unless, of course, their name is Netanyahu.

Of course, this does not mean that there aren’t questions about the maritime border deal with Lebanon. It remains, for example, unclear why Israel went from negotiations that were supposed to keep some percentage of the disputed “water triangle” in Israeli hands, to zero. Something changed in the talks and while diplomatic officials explain that there never was a possible deal under the terms that former Trump officials claim, the public will need more detailed explanations.

  London-based Energean’s drill ship begins drilling at the Karish natural gas field offshore Israel in the east Mediterranean May 9, 2022. (credit: REUTERS) London-based Energean’s drill ship begins drilling at the Karish natural gas field offshore Israel in the east Mediterranean May 9, 2022. (credit: REUTERS)

The Israel-Lebanon deal is in everyone's interests 

What does need to change, however, is the way this deal is being viewed. It is not an economic deal but rather, one that has much more to do with diplomacy and security. Just like Israel enabled the transfer of tens of millions of dollars to Hamas to gain a bit of calm, Israel is doing something similar with Lebanon.

But there are two stark and important differences. The first is that the money that will be made by Lebanon will go to Lebanon. It will not go to a terrorist group, like the moneybags that Netanyahu allowed to be given to Hamas.

And helping to bolster Lebanon is in Israel’s interests. A Lebanon that is confident and strong with gas and money not only creates greater stability in the North, it also weakens Hezbollah, since the money will go to the state and then, hopefully, to the people.

The second difference is that Israel has created an equation of deterrence. The placing of production platforms on the Israeli side (Karish) and on the Lebanese side (Kana) means that if Israel is attacked, Lebanon will also have an asset it can lose.

Does this make it a good deal for Israel? 

First, let’s see that there will actually be a deal. Based on reports on Thursday, Lebanon is raising its demands and Israel has made it clear that it will not budge.

But one thing is certain – this is not a surrender. It is an attempt at pragmatism that is sadly – like so much else in this country – tainted by continual elections.

***

The end of Yom Kippur is always special. After 25 hours of praying and fasting, there is the final recitation of Avinu Malkeinu and the blowing of the shofar. What comes next, though, has been strange to me for nearly 30 years, ever since I moved to Jerusalem as a teenager.

It is the song that almost all services break out and sing – L’shana Haba’a B’yerushalayaim Ha’Bnuya – Next year in a rebuilt Jerusalem.

It is strange to sing this because when I look through my office window on Jaffa Street, I see a Jerusalem that is built and the construction continues at a furious pace. There are countless cranes now erecting high-rise buildings, train lines are being laid and tunnels dug. Yerushalayim shel Mata and Yerushalayim shel Mala – Jerusalem of below and Jerusalem of above – are all being built.

It is also strange, because when I walk through the streets of Jerusalem I see more synagogues than ever; more people praying than ever; more people learning Torah than ever; and the simple fact is that there are more Jews today in Jerusalem than ever before in any period throughout Jewish history.

Jerusalem today is built, is holy, diverse and is a place where the modern meshes amazingly with the ancient.

Almost 2,000 years after the destruction of the Second Temple, it is a miracle. 

I understand that the song refers to a romantic yearning for a different Jerusalem, something that is more of a symbol when the Jewish nation had a Beit Mikdash, a temple, and lived in a time in Jewish history that we want to believe was simply better. I fear though, that this idea of “better” is not real. 

It could be that one of the reasons was because of a book I’ve been reading lately – Simon Sebag Montefiore’s incredible Jerusalem: The Biography.

After reading the first section about the First and Second Temple periods it is hard to understand what it is that this song is calling for. Do we really want to return to the Jerusalem of strife, corruption and infighting? The one where kings and priests poisoned one another, cheated one another and stole from one another to cling to power? Is that the Jerusalem we yearn for just because there was a temple back then?

Is that what we want?

I also understand that for many people, the song represents a connection to a past, a tradition and a history when Jews were not able to be in Jerusalem.

Today, we can be in Jerusalem. There is no need to dream about being in Jerusalem next year. No matter where you are in the world today, there is probably an El Al flight leaving at 10 p.m. that can get you here by tomorrow. Not next year – tomorrow.

This is not to say that every Jew needs to live here. I wish more would, but I completely understand that they cannot.

Can we do better? Of course. But we need to recognize that Jerusalem is a real city. It is a real place, where people live, work and thrive. It is a work in progress and that is how it needs to be viewed.

We need a song that yearns for what is real – a unified city where people stop fighting, work together toward common goals, where religions are respected and where people understand that Jerusalem is the single capital of the modern Jewish state of Israel.

Those are attainable goals and these are goals worth singing about.