Opposition chairman MK Isaac Herzog (Labor) was asked what he would do if he were prime minister. “I would do everything that is necessary to prevent the intolerable rocket fire on southern Israel,” he answered, “and I would go Ramallah to advance an agreement with the Palestinians.” Herzog combined finding a tactical solution to this acute problem with a strategy for preventing future conflicts.
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Akiva Eldar during an interview for the Israel Conference on Peace that he would uphold his promise to hold another nine months of negotiations if Israel lives up to its previous commitment to release the fourth round of prisoners. Abbas also stated that a Palestinian commitment to talks would hinge on an Israeli commitment to discuss borders during the first three months of the talks, as well as refrain from building new settlements.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid said during the Herzliya Conference last month that Israel must define its borders, stop settlement construction outside of the large blocs, and renew talks with the Palestinian Authority. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Lapid’s suggestions, calling him inexperienced. How can Israel “give” the Palestinians borders without receiving anything in exchange, Netanyahu asked. But Lapid was right, and Netanyahu was wrong, or perhaps he preferred to halt any progress. An agreement, if and when it is signed, would include many issues; it will be impossible to implement a proposal or accord based on a single issue. It must be part of an overarching agreement. It’s hard to believe that the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority engaged in negotiations for nine months but didn’t talk about borders. Abbas’ demand that this be the first issue discussed in a new round of talks is justified, and according to Lapid, it’s in Israel’s interest as well. Abbas and Lapid also both see the Arab Peace Initiative of 2003 as a basis for an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The reason there are currently no negotiations is clear: Either the prime minister does not believe the things he said during his Bar-Ilan speech or he is unable to prevail over the extreme right-wing elements in his coalition, thereby making him unfit to lead.
Now is the time to form a government made up of parties that are able to lead Israel according to the Bar-Ilan framework articulated by Netanyahu and the strategy put forth by Lapid and Herzog. Netanyahu could put together a coalition without Habayit Hayehudi and certain MKs from Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu who wish to continue representing the settlers. Lapid must issue an ultimatum to the prime minister:
Either with me on the path to peace, or without me.