Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said on Monday that although he supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is currently unfeasible. Lapid made the remarks as the main guest at a meeting of the European Union Foreign Affairs Council, which was attended by 26 EU foreign ministers.
“It is no secret that I support a two-state solution. Unfortunately, there is no current plan for this. However, there is one thing we all need to remember. If there is eventually a Palestinian state, it must be a peace-loving democracy. We cannot be asked to take part in the building of another threat to our lives,” the Israeli foreign minister said.
Lapid said that Israel has a new type of peace with the Arab world, noting the inauguration of the Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates ten days earlier. The Israeli foreign minister expressed the hope that Israel would also open embassies in Morocco, Bahrain and Sudan in the coming weeks.
Lapid added that he seeks to expand the scope of Israel's peace agreements, including to the Palestinians. “What we need to do now is ensure that no steps are taken that will prevent the possibility of peace in the future, and we need to improve the lives of Palestinians. Whatever is humanitarian, I will be for it. Everything that builds the Palestinian economy, I am for it," he said.
Earlier on Monday and against the backdrop of the worsened relationship between Israel and the EU, the European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said: "Today's meeting with Lapid is a great chance to restart relations with Israel from a bilateral point of view, but also regarding the situation in the Middle East."
Also on Monday, Lapid met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels, where he stressed the common values that Israel and the alliance share. Lapid expressed Israel's willingness to expand cooperation in a range of fields, including intelligence, cybertechnology and climate change.
In the course of his visit, Lapid is seeking to promote Israeli-European dialogue through the Association Council, which governs Israeli-European partnerships in areas such as commerce and foreign policy. The council has not been convened in recent years due to a dispute between the two sides.
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Lapid is also expected to announce Israel’s intention to join the Creative Europe program, which grants generous support worth hundreds of millions of euros to cultural initiatives in participating countries, including film production, book translations and the establishment of cultural institutions. Then-Culture Minister Miri Regev opposed Israel’s joining the initiative in 2017 because it was conditioned on prohibiting the use of program funding in West Bank settlements, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights
In Israel, the current expectation is that unlike the hard line pursued by Regev, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and right-wing parties in the coalition government will support joining the initiative. In 2013, Bennett supported a compromise that allowed Israel to join a comparable EU initiative, Horizon 2020, providing funding to scientific projects, even though that initiative also barred funds going to areas beyond Israel’s 1967 borders.
A diplomatic source told Haaretz that the fact that Lapid was invited to meet with the foreign ministers just a month after he assumed office is “a significant event that attests to the wish of member states to open a new page in their relations with Israel, but it’s unclear to what extent they can or are willing to update relations between the two sides.”
According to another source familiar with the details of Lapid’s visit, “[former Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu deliberately led to a deterioration in the ties with European countries in recent years, on the backdrop of their critical stance, preferring to promote relations with countries that cooperated with him, mainly Hungary, Greece, Cyprus, Poland and Romania. Lapid has a clear goal of rehabilitating relations with other states. The Europeans were also waiting for a change in government.”
This source added that “it’s unclear if this move will be entirely successful. Lapid can advance numerous achievements, but in order to moderate the European Union’s attitude toward Israel, European ministers will demand to see significant progress in the diplomatic process, and that is something the Bennett-Lapid government is not ready for at this point.”