Finance Minister and Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid told the Washington Post Thursday that he has been "talking constantly" to Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, imploring him to "be more proactive" in pushing the peace process with the Palestinians forward.
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In the interview, Lapid said "For me, there’s no other game in town but the two-state solution," and said that within the framework of an agreement, "the Palestinians must have their own country."
Lapid gave the Washington Post an interview in order to try and mend the bad impression he left after a New York Times interview a few weeks ago, in which he expressed a hard line on the Palestinian issue, more aligned with the Likud Party rather than his party's platform.
He told the New York Times he believes in an interim agreement with the Palestinians and that a final status resolution cannot be reached. He stressed that he is opposed to a settlement freeze and to any halt of budget transfers to the settlements. In addition, he also expressed his doubts that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is a partner for peace.
In the interview with the Washington Post, Lapid sounded quite different from the earlier interview, making statements identified with the center-left in Israel. He specified that he and his party intend to act from within the coalition in order to advance the peace process. "We are not going to wait for the next government. We are not going to stay for four years on the sidelines."
Lapid added that he intends to press the prime minister on this issue. "I’m going to push for this as hard as I can because I think this is really important for Israel. I’m not doing this because I’m in love with the Palestinians. I’m doing this because I think it’s in Israel’s best interests to have what I call an honest divorce."
Lapid also said he believes Netanyahu is committed to a two-state solution. "He’s been pretty consistent since this government was established in saying, 'Yes, I understand that this is going to be based on a two-state solution.' This is not an easy thing to say in his party [Likud], which shows that he means business because he’s paying a political price. I’m pleased with the fact that the prime minister is using this vocabulary. He knows that I’m going to push as far as I can in order to make this a reality."
Lapid did not reiterate his statements about a settlement freeze, but said that Netanyahu has reservations about declaring a freeze since during his previous term it did not advance negotiations. "This is a big move for this government. To ask an Israeli prime minister to jeopardize the existence of his own government without knowing what the end results will be is a lot to ask. This is a big move. This is a game-changer. The Likud is more extreme today than it used to be, but I think the head of the Likud [Netanyahu] is more moderate today than he used to be."
In any agreement with the Palestinians, Lapid said, there will be no choice but to evacuate settlements. "I think that eventually we will have no other option but to pull lots of settlements out of the West Bank. What we call the blocs will stay, such as Ariel, Ma’ale Adumim and Gush Etzion, but basically, of course, if you have a two-state solution, you will pull settlements out of the West Bank. There is no other option."
Lapid said he is concerned about the demographic balance between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean moving in a direction that is harmful for Israel, which is why separation from the Palestinians is necessary.
"What we have to say is, 'Yes, we’ve tried this one hundred times, but let’s try it one hundred and one, one hundred and two,' until it succeeds. There’s no other option. If there is another option, it’s too horrific; it’s [one] state of two nations, which is the end of Zionism. If we don’t go for the two-state solution, this state will stop being a Jewish state."
On the Iranian issue, Lapid delivered a much more moderate message than Netanyahu. "Yes, I think about it a lot. I think the newly elected Iranian President [Hassan] Rouhani is interesting. It is probably better to have a reformer as the president of Iran, but we have to see."