Finance Minister Yair Lapid on Sunday blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the crisis in relations with the United States over the comatose peace process. Lapid vowed to bring down Netanyahu's government should there be any attempt to annex West Bank settlements, and called on the premier to instead reveal his "map" of where Israel's future borders with the Palestinians should lie.
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In a speech at the high-profile Herzliya Conference, Lapid, head of Yesh Atid, also presented a peace plan that included evacuation of "isolated settlements" during negotiations with the Palestinians.
Lapid told the VIP audience that Israel's international support is waning because it has not launched a peace initiative nor set out a vision for its borders. An example of this decreasing support, Lapid said, was the Obama administration's recognition of the Fatah-Hamas unity government. While he did not mention Netanyahu by name, Lapid implied that the fault for the crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations was the prime minister's handling of his relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama.
"We are in an unprecedented crisis with the United States," Lapid said. "This crisis is the result of problematic and at times contemptuous handling of affairs on our side, but it is still possible – and necessary – to return our special relationship with the United States to the right path. This will be the first step on the way back to the negotiating table [with the Palestinians]."
Lapid said a continued political vacuum would lead Israel to international isolation and cause damage to its security and economy. and security.
Maintaining that Israel's interest was in forging a two-state solution, Lapid blasted Economy Minister Naftali Bennett for his proposal that Israel annex West Bank settlement blocs.
"Extreme right-wing forces are pushing us toward the delusional idea of annexation, which will lead us to the disaster called a binational state," Lapid said. "I don't know if this is a public relations exercise or a true intention, but we will not allow this to happen. If there is an attempt to annex even one settlement unilaterally, Yesh Atid will not only bolt the government, it will bring it down."
In his speech, Lapid presented his own peace plan, whose first stage would be an Israeli withdrawal from parts of the West Bank where there are no settlements, though the Israel Defense Forces would retain the ability to act anywhere in the West Bank if the need arose. At the same time, Israel would institute a freeze on construction outside the large settlement blocs.
In the second stage, he said, Israel would "move into the settlement blocks while evacuating the isolated settlements." In this stage as well, he said, the IDF would retain the right to act anywhere in the West Bank, while redeploying in coordination with the United States.
"During this stage there will be direct negotiations [with the Palestinians] with the mediation of the United States, in Ramallah and Jerusalem, on final borders," he said. In the third and last stage, final borders between Israel and a Palestinian state would be set, including land swaps, and talks on the remaining core issues would get underway.
"The final map will be the result of negotiations," Lapid said. "The maps of the first two stages are a clear Israeli interest, and there's no reason for us not to start drawing them now. As soon as they are presented, we can bring the moderate Arab states into the agreement and turn it into a regional one."
Lapid said the reason the government had not presented any maps was that it did not want to freeze settlement construction outside the large blocs. "But such a freeze is not a threat to us," he said. "This is exactly what we have to do. There's no reason to continue maintaining settlements in areas that will not remain within the territory of the State of Israel in any future agreement, or to invest billions in infrastructure that in the end we will give as a gift to the Palestinians."
About an hour before their speeches at the Herzliya Conference, Lapid, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett previewed their remarks during the ministers meeting convened by Netanyahu to explore alternatives in the wake of the failed peace talks.
As at the conference, Livni and Lapid joined forces in threatening to bolt the coalition if any move was made to annex West Bank territory, while Bennett went over his plan to most of the West Bank, beginning with Gush Etzion.