In his address to the United Nations, Prime Minister Yair Lapid lauded the importance of the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Thursday, a rare statement in the UN plenum from an Israeli premier.
"An agreement with the Palestinians, based on two states for two peoples, is the right thing for Israel's security, for Israel's economy and for the future of our children," he said, in his first speech to the UN General Assembly as the nation's premiere. "Despite all the obstacles, still today a large majority of Israelis support the vision of this two-state solution. I am one of them."
He continued that the one condition Israel has for such a partnership is that "a future Palestinian state will be a peaceful one. That it will not become another terror base from which to threaten the well-being, and the very existence of Israel. That we will have the ability to protect the security of all the citizens of Israel, at all times."
"You can ask us to live according to the values in the UN Charter, but you cannot ask us to die for them," he added, stressing his family connection to the Holocaust. "We want to live in peace but only if it gives us security, not if it threatens us even more."
Lapid said that member states have asked Israel several times why it will not lift the restrictions on the Gaza Strip. "We're ready to do more than that. I say from here to the people of Gaza, we're ready to help you build a better life, to build an economy. We presented a comprehensive plan to help rebuild Gaza. We only have one condition: Stop firing rockets and missiles at our children. Put down your weapons, there will be no restrictions," he said.
"Israel seeks peace with our neighbors – all our neighbors. We are not going anywhere, the Middle East is our home. We are here to stay, forever," he said. "And we call upon every Muslim country – from Saudi Arabia to Indonesia – to recognize that, and to come talk to us. Our hand is outstretched for peace."
Lapid also discussed the nuclear threat posed by Iran, and accused the United Nations of ignoring its anti-Israeli rhetoric. "There is only one member-state in the UN that openly states its wish to destroy another member-state. Iran has declared time and time again that it is interested in the 'total destruction' of the State of Israel, and this building is silent." He continued, "What are you afraid of? Has there ever been a time in human history where silence stopped violence?"
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"If the Iranian regime gets a nuclear weapon, they will use it," he said. "The only way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, is to put a credible military threat on the table. And then – and only then – to negotiate a 'Longer and Stronger' deal with them.
"It needs to be made clear to Iran, that if it advances its nuclear program, the world will not respond with words, but with military force," he said. "Every time a threat like that was put on the table in the past, Iran stopped and retreated."
With a nuclear deal with Iran looming, he said, "Today, the world is choosing the easy option. It chooses not to believe the worst, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Israel does not have this privilege. This time we are not standing empty-handed against those who want to destroy us."
Lapid also touted the diversity of the "real Israel": "A country in which Jews, Muslims and Christians live together with full civic equality," he said. "In the government which I lead, there are Arab ministers. There is an Arab party as a member of our coalition. We have Arab judges in our Supreme Court, Arab doctors saving lives in our hospitals. Israeli Arabs are not our enemies, they are our partners in life."
Earlier on Thursday, senior Palestinian Authority figures told Haaretz that if Lapid really intends to talk about a Palestinian state, he should define what borders that state would have. The term would remain meaningless as long as its borders were undefined and the settlement enterprise continued. “I hope he mentions 1967,” said one senior official.
The fact that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is speaking a day after Lapid will enable him to mention Lapid’s speech and respond to it if necessary, his associates said. According to sources familiar with this speech, Abbas will speak with conviction, noting that the UN General Assembly has already recognized a Palestinian state, but that in practice, the Palestinian people are suffering from a continued occupation and its ramifications.
Sources close to Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party is vying for Knesset seats in the November election, said that an Israeli prime minister has not expressed support for a political solution with the Palestinians in many years. Reports that he would affirm such support caused a domestic stir among his political rivals.
Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar said on Wednesday that establishing a "terror state in Judea and Samaria," the biblical name for the West Bank, "will endanger Israel's safety and that most Israeli people and their representatives will not allow that to happen."
The Likud party stated that after Lapid "formed the first Israeli-Palestinian government, now he wants to establish a Palestinian state on the border of Kfar Saba, Netanya and Ben-Gurion Airport, and hand over territories of our homeland to our enemies. For years, Netanyahu managed to remove the Palestinian issue from the world agenda, and Lapid brought Mahmoud Abbas back to the forefront in less than a year."