His current unpopularity due to proposed austerity measures notwithstanding, Finance Minister Yair Lapid said he still intended to become prime minister one day and, despite his avowed support for a Palestinian state, presented an uncompromising position on Jerusalem and West Bank settlements.
Speaking to The New York Times — his first interview with the foreign press since his Yesh Atid party’s surprise electoral triumph in the January elections — Lapid, who positions himself as a centrist, said Sunday that while a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is crucial for Israel, Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of the Jewish state.
East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967 and formally annexed in 1980 — a move not recognized internationally — must remain in Israeli hands and not serve as the Palestinian capital, he said.
Lapid also said that Israel should not change its policy on the settlements in order to entice the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. According to the Times, Lapid stated “he would not stop the so-called ‘natural expansion’ of settlements in the West Bank, nor curtail the financial incentives offered Israelis to move there.”
Israel has to do “something” about the political situation with the Palestinians, Lapid said, while questioning whether the Palestinians truly wanted a state, since “Israelis want peace and security and Palestinians want peace and justice… two very different things.”
Echoing sentiments often expressed by Avigdor Liberman, the hawkish Yisrael Beytenu chairman, during his term as foreign minister, Lapid said that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is no negotiating partner, but rather “one of the founding fathers of the victimizing concept of the Palestinians.”
Lapid’s remarks, consistent with positions expressed during his election campaign, are anathema to the Palestinians, as is Lapid’s proposal for an interim Palestinian state with final borders to be determined in “three, four or five years.”
The Yesh Atid leader has recently been preoccupied with his position as finance minister, and has for the most part steered clear of the topic of peace negotiations. In his remarks to the Times, Lapid mentioned “repeatedly” his hope that US Secretary of State John Kerry would be able to kick-start a new round of talks.
Speaking about his experience since taking office, Lapid said the shock of entering political life was “painful.” Lapid said he still saw himself succeeding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as he’d stated shortly after the elections, but was “in no hurry.”
As for his declining popularity — due to a series of proposed budget cuts and tax hikes meant to minimize Israel’s burgeoning deficit — Lapid remained confident.
“I’m going to be bashed now, and be the beneficiary of this within, I don’t know, a year or a year and a half,” he said. “Making hard choices always seems to be mistakes, but these are not mistakes.”