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A Phone Call Won't Do, Lapid Needs to Meet Mahmoud Abbas

Haaretz Editorial
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a joint statement with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in May 2021.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a joint statement with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in May 2021.Credit: Alex Brandon / AP
Haaretz Editorial

The Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha gave Prime Minister Yair Lapid an excuse for a conversation with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. It has been about five years since the two men talked, and, according to Lapid, this time they talked about “cooperation and the need to maintain calm and quiet in the area.”

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But it seems Lapid was actually trying to calm his voters: He was quick to point out to reporters that no meeting was planned between him and Abbas at this time, although he does not rule out such a meeting in principle if there is a real need. And after all, U.S. President Joe Biden did not condition his anticipated meeting with Abbas next week on “a real need” – just as he did not condition his conversation with Abbas last year. It appears that as opposed to Lapid, Biden realizes the importance of a face-to-face meeting with Abbas, because there is always a need.

All the more so for Israel, because Israel is deeply enmeshed in a long, bloody conflict with the Palestinian people, while at the same time maintaining normal economic ties and security cooperation with the PA, Israel must not regard Abbas as the commander of a sector under its authority. Neither should it consider a meeting with him as a kind of political game of chance that could mark the prime minister as a “leftist” who intends to sell parts of the Land of Israel.

Exactly one year ago, in a meeting of the European Union’s foreign ministers, Lapid delivered a refreshing line: “It’s no secret that we support a two-state solution,” he said, “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 support it.”

On that occasion, Lapid coined the phrase “lack of political feasibility” in implementing the two-state solution. No one has the illusion that there is political feasibility now, of all times, or that over his next four months heading the caretaker government, Lapid would be able to launch a diplomatic breakthrough. But if Lapid does indeed aspire to lay the groundwork for peace with the Palestinians, he must understand that normalizing personal ties with the Palestinian leadership is an essential foundation of the diplomatic process. It is inconceivable that Lapid will make do with Defense Minister Benny Gantz meeting with Abbas, or with President Isaac Herzog’s holiday greeting in a phone call.

A Lapid meeting with Abbas would show that he is a political leader with a clear agenda, and moreover it will send an encouraging message to the Palestinians, and will offer a diplomatic horizon to most Israelis, who look forward to an end to the conflict with the Palestinians.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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