Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid believes that if Israel presents an uncompromising position on the issue of Jerusalem, like the firm stance it has taken on the right of return, eventually the Palestinians will give up their demand that East Jerusalem become the capital of a Palestinian state.
Lapid was speaking Tuesday before a closed forum of the Council for Peace and Security, an organization of former high-ranking security officials that strives to advance the peace process and the founding of a Palestinian state.
A source who took notes during the speech said that an audience member queried Lapid about his stance against dividing Jerusalem. “Do you want 300,000 Palestinians living in Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem to be Israelis?” the questioner asked.
Lapid replied affirmatively. “Arabs live in the state of Israel and we must learn to live with them,” he said.
Even though he lacks any foreign policy experience and has never participated in diplomatic discussions with the Palestinians, Lapid presented a rather optimistic view of Palestinian flexibility regarding the issue of Jerusalem. In his opinion, Israel can reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians without having to divide Jerusalem or transfer sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods.
“Why did Abu Mazen suddenly say he’s giving up the right of return?” asked Lapid, relating to comments made last week by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in an interview on Channel 2. During the interview, Abbas said he is not seeking to return to his home in Safed, from which his family fled in 1948, but at no point did he say that he renounces the right of return.
“Abu Mazen gave up the right of return because the Palestinians realized that there is a definite consensus among the Israeli public on this issue, so they’re moving on to the next topic,” added Lapid. “The same thing needs to happen with regard to Jerusalem. We cannot blink on this issue. When it comes to Jerusalem, there are no compromises. If the Palestinians realize they won’t have a state unless they give up on Jerusalem, they’ll back down from that demand as well.”
Yesh Atid party spokesman Nili Reichman confirmed that Lapid made the statements during his speech on Tuesday.
During his policy speech in Ariel last week, Lapid declared that he is against territorial compromise in Jerusalem, stating that the city “will remain under Israeli sovereignty and will not be divided.”
Jerusalem is “the beating heart around which all of modern Israel was built,” he said.
“The return to Zion was not to the Azrieli Towers, but rather the Tower of David, and the heart of Jerusalem is the heart of the state of Israel,” he added, referring to Tel Aviv’s iconic trio of skyscrapers.
Over the past 20 years, since the beginning of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, the future of Jerusalem has been considered one of the central issues on the agenda. The Palestinians have demanded that Israel withdraw from East Jerusalem, as determined by the 1967 borders and including the Temple Mount, so they can establish their capital there.
During the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority at Camp David in July 2000 and later during the Taba summit in January 2001, then prime minister Ehud Barak agreed to a territorial compromise in Jerusalem, including in the Holy Basin, referring to the Old City and the Temple Mount.
Dividing Jerusalem was also one of the “ideas” presented by then U.S. President Bill Clinton to Barak and Yasser Arafat in December 2000. Barak accepted Clinton’s ideas, although he did express reservations.
The parties met again during the Annapolis Conference in November 2007. During the ensuing negotiations between former prime minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas in 2008, the former agreed to transfer Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem over to Palestinian sovereignty. Olmert also agreed to transfer administration of Jerusalem’s holy places to an international commission, composed of representatives from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, the United States and Israel.
The Palestinians also showed readiness to make certain compromises in Jerusalem, during both the Camp David and the Annapolis talks. The Palestinians were ready to leave under Israeli sovereignty most Jewish neighborhoods founded in East Jerusalem after 1967, with the exception of Har Homa. Also, the Palestinians even expressed agreement to the plan for international administration over holy sites, and offered to leave the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood under Israeli sovereignty in a territorial swap.