Finance Minister Yair Lapid threatened on Sunday to overthrow the government if right-wing initiatives for unilateral annexation of areas of the West Bank are advanced.
“If there is an attempt to annex even one settlement unilaterally, Yesh Atid won’t just pull out of the coalition, it will topple it,” he warned. The centrist Yesh Atid has 19 seats, and the current Benjamin Netanyahu-led coalition would not have a majority without it.
In a far-reaching speech at the Herzliya conference, an annual national security gathering, Lapid issued an appeal to return to negotiations with the Palestinians — despite the new Fatah-Hamas unity government — and outlined a new framework for peace that would draw borders and progress in three separate stages of Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.
Adopting a position seemingly at odds with an Israel security cabinet decision last month, in which he and other senior ministers voted unanimously not to negotiate with the Hamas-backed technocratic government, Lapid said that over the next few weeks Hamas’s influence in the West Bank will be appraised, but emphasized that restoring the peace talks is an imperative for the preservation of Israel-US relations.
“This [interim] period will continue for a few weeks during which we must evaluate the effects of the establishment of the Hamas-Fatah government on security arrangements, and ensure that Hamas has no creeping control on organizations and institutions in the West Bank.”
That said, the US and EU recognition of the new entity symbolizes “an unprecedented crisis in our relations with the US.” The crisis is a product of “a problematic, and occasionally disparaging administration, but can — and should be — restored,” he said.
“This will be our first step on the way back to the negotiations table,” he added.
The peace talks are “a clear Israeli interest,” Lapid argued. “An agreement will prevent the international isolation of Israel, will increase the personal safety of every citizen, will create an economic ‘boom’ that will boost the GDP and dramatically improve the quality of life in Israel, and above all — will remove the threat of a binational state whose establishment will only mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state and the eradication of Zionism.”
In addition to collaborating with the US, Israel must include the “moderate Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States” in the peace talks, Lapid said.
The two defining features of Israel’s requirements for a peace agreement are “separation and security,” he said. For the latter, “there is no room for compromise,” and Israel must retain its security presence as it sees fit, he said.
The primary objective Israel must focus on is outlining borders, he said, and approach the next round with detailed plans. “We need concrete and forward-looking maps that will define what the settlement blocs are, where we must freeze construction, and where it can be increased,” he said.
Once defined, Israel can proceed with a three-stage plan toward peace, he said. In the first ‘preparation stage,’ Israel would withdraw from areas that do not require the evacuation of settlements. In the second ‘confidence-building’ stage, Israel would clear isolated settlements while retaining its security arrangements in the area — in coordination with the US. Discussions on a permanent framework would proceed. In the third and final stage, the borders would be finalized, land swaps would be implemented, and the core issues addressed.
“The reasons these maps have not been drawn until now is that they embody the need to freeze construction outside the settlement blocs,” Lapid said. The finance minister denounced the settlement construction and financial investments in West Bank settlements that come at the expense of the rest of Israeli society, but insisted that a distinction must be drawn between areas that would likely become part of sovereign Israel in the event of a final accord, and isolated settlements. In a sharp rebuke of the far-left, Lapid warmed that “those who don’t see a difference between Yitzhar and the Gilo neighborhood in Jerusalem don’t bring peace closer, but rather push it farther away.”
Lapid said he “has no problem with building in Gush Etzion or in the Gilo neighborhood in Jerusalem, but construction in isolated settlements causes us international damage that is only getting worse, and economic damage that every Israeli citizen feels in his pocket.”