Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday didn’t contain any news. His most compelling statement was that 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.” That is true, and important to remember. But this isn’t the first time it has been said from the UN podium. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also said it, even though he didn’t lift a finger to achieve such a solution.
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Lapid is a caretaker prime minister in a right-wing country, speaking at the height of Israel’s fifth election campaign in three years, against the backdrop of a severe political crisis and an eruption of Kahanism. Consequently, there was never any reason to expect anything beyond general statements of intent. Nevertheless, even under circumstances that seemingly leave him no room to accompany his words with a call for launching diplomatic negotiations, it’s worth pausing over the fact that his speech wasn’t addressed to anyone specific. Anybody who expected to hear Lapid extend a hand to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would have been disappointed.
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“Put down your weapons, there will be no restrictions,” he said, as if the Palestinian Authority had never abandoned the armed struggle. “Put down your weapons, bring home our children who are being held in captivity – Hadar and Oron, may their memory be a blessing; Avera and Hisham, who are still alive – and we will build your economy together. We can build your future together, both in Gaza and in the West Bank.” Anyone not well-versed in the conflict might have concluded from these remarks that the conflict revolves solely around the Gaza Strip – that there is no Palestinian Authority, that there is no security cooperation with it and that the Palestinian people’s representatives are Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Nor did Lapid offer anything different from Netanyahu with regard to the Iranian threat. “The only way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, is to put a credible military threat on the table,” he said. “And then – and only then – to negotiate a longer and stronger deal with them.” Moreover, he added, “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.”
Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett broke his long silence on Wednesday to assail Lapid’s reported intention of announcing his support for advancing a two-state solution. But Bennett can relax. Lapid did nothing to undermine the so-called government of change’s commitment to an absence of change.