Yair Lapid Says Jerusalem Is Non-negotiable Even if It Means No Peace

In a press conference, Yesh Atid party chairman said 'If there's no peace because of that, then there won't be'

Yair Lapid speaks in Stockholm, August 28, 2016
Jonathan Nackstrand / AP

Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid vowed Monday that Jerusalem will not be divided and that he would never discuss splitting the city. "If there's no peace because of that, then there won't be," Lapid said at a press briefing with diplomatic correspondents.

However, when asked his thoughts on recent remarks by Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay that settlements don’t necessarily need to be evacuated under a peace agreement, Lapid qualified that “of course, a future agreement will require painful concessions. To preserve the blocs, and united Jerusalem, there will be concessions regarding isolated settlements.”

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Lapid's statements come three weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and one week after the UN voted to reject Trump's announcement.

Lapid also said that Israel needs to transition from a conflict in which one party controls the other to a “conflict between equals, between neighbors.” He said that “This could be achieved through a regional convention, but it’s impossible not to do anything.”

Regarding the scandals surrounding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Lapid said that Netanyahu would certainly be questioned over the acquisition of submarines from Germany: “If he doesn’t know, then he shouldn’t be prime minister,” he said.

Lapid called the press conference in an effort to debunk Netanyahu’s statements about a “diplomatic renaissance” and said that on the contrary, Israel has been losing support in the world. “It’s simply not true. There is no diplomatic renaissance,” Lapid said. “We are losing Europe, the American Jews, the young evangelists, the international institutions. In parallel, weapons are penetrating our region, which is a diplomatic defeat. The Iranians are in Syria and Hezbollah is growing stronger.”

On Israel-U.S. relations, he called Trump a “miracle for Israel and Netanyahu,” but said that aside from Trump’s election, Israel’s situation is worse than ever before. “There is a breakdown like never before with the Democratic Party. Many there took the Western Wall crisis personally. [Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Ron] Dermer has become persona non grata among the Democrats.”

On relations with the European Union, Lapid said that an anti-Netanyahu axis has been created. “[French President Emmanuel] Macron made calls ahead of the UN vote to balance Trump The visit to the EU was an incontrovertible flop.”

Speaking about the recent UN resolution on Jerusalem, where 128 members voted against 9 to reject Trump’s recognition of the city as Israel’s capital, Lapid said there was “no way to describe it but defeat,” adding, “If you don’t know how to channel photo ops to achievements, then what have you achieved?”

“I favor America cutting back the UN budget,” he said. “I have no argument over that with Netanyahu. But that is not a diplomatic renaissance. There is diplomatic neglect.”

Lapid charged that naming Danny Danon as Israel's ambassador to the UN was a political, unprofessional appointment and bears a costly price. “When the prime minister also functions as foreign minister and health minister and is under investigation, and he isn’t like he was years ago – it has an effect,” Lapid said.

On Israel’s relations with Russia, Lapid said that another prime minister would have roped in the Americans: “A Turkey-Russia-Iran axis has taken shape. ... Everything Netanyahu said would not happen is happening.”

Asked what he would have done differently, Lapid said, “The Russians should be told that we will undermine the Assad regime Israel doesn’t have to be responsible for the stability of the Syrian regime, certainly not when it’s headed by a mass murderer.” Aside from recruiting the Americans for a Syrian front, Lapid said, the Russians should be made aware that they can’t ignore Israel: “I don’t have a magic formula, but relations can’t be improved by photo ops.”

Criticizing the claim of improved relations with China, Lapid said, “In less than two years China will be Iran’s main trading partner. They will block any attempt we make to target Iran’s nuclear program or in general. As long as the North Korean crisis persists, the Americans will remain dependent on China.”

Lapid added that Saudi Arabia was getting benefits for free – namely, quality intelligence they hadn’t had access to before – but anybody not seeing the Palestinian glass ceiling was being oblivious. “The whole weird idea of achieving an initial arrangement with the Arab nations, and only then the Palestinians, has no truth in it,” Lapid said.

As for Guatemala’s announcement that it would follow the United States and move its embassy to Jerusalem, Lapid said that Israel's relationship with Guatemala had improved just like it had with India and some African countries.