Biden lauds ‘courageous’ Lapid call for two-states as US groups push for peace talks

US president says he ‘could not agree more’ after prime minister backs Palestinian statehood at UN General Assembly, but others note absence of actual movement toward goal

US President Joe Biden speaks about Hurricane Fiona during a visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency Region 2 office in New York, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. (AP/Evan Vucci)
US President Joe Biden speaks about Hurricane Fiona during a visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency Region 2 office in New York, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. (AP/Evan Vucci)

US President Joe Biden joined a chorus of praise for Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s endorsement of a Palestinian state alongside Israel Thursday, calling the statement “courageous,” as groups urged Israel’s government to follow up the words with action.

Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly in New York Thursday, Lapid said most Israelis, himself included, supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“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,” he declared.

In a tweet on his official @POTUS account hours later, Biden quoted Lapid’s words and said he “could not agree more.”

“I welcome @IsraeliPM Lapid’s courageous statement at the UN General Assembly,” Biden tweeted.

On Wednesday, Biden used his own speech to the UN’s annual high-level meeting to reaffirm Washington’s support for Palestinian statehood.

“A negotiated two-state solution remains in our view the best way to ensure Israel’s security and prosperity… and give the Palestinians a state to which they are entitled,” Biden said in the address, which mainly focused on Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine.

The US president did not meet with Lapid on the sidelines of the UN meeting, though he posed for a picture with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Wednesday night.

Lapid rushed back to Israel following his speech to attend his son’s wedding on Friday.

The comments backing Palestinian statehood came after several years in which Israel’s leaders shied from publicly supporting the formula. But the call angered some of Lapid’s right-wing allies as well as opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who himself used the UN rostrum as prime minister in 2016 to publicly endorse Palestinian statehood.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York City on September 22, 2022. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP)

Netanyahu later veered away from the position as Washington under former US president Donald Trump also broke with decades of US foreign policy by avoiding definitively backing two states.

Minutes after Lapid’s speech, US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides lauded the “courageous” address.

“Peaceful coexistence is only way forward. As @POTUS urged here in July, ‘two peoples, with deep & ancient roots in this land, living side by side in peace and security,’” Nides tweeted, referring to comments Biden made while visiting Israel and the West Bank.

There was no immediate response from Palestinian officials.

Tor Wennesland, the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, told a meeting of donors to the Palestinian Authority that Lapid’s words were “an important reaffirmation.”

“Creating a political horizon toward a two-state reality is urgently needed,” he said, according to a spokesperson.

Several US groups also praised Lapid, including dovish Israel lobby J Street, which called it “an important step in the right direction.” Many noted, however, that Lapid’s vision stands little chance of coming to fruition, with most parties expected to enter the Knesset opposed to a two-state solution and peace talks essentially frozen for the last eight years.

A man waves a Palestinian flag as Israelis mark Jerusalem Day outside the capital’s Old City on May 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

The New York-based Israel Policy Forum noted that Lapid’s decision to back Palestinian statehood weeks before Israelis go to the polls would likely hurt him politically, but said it was nonetheless “heartened that the current Israeli government shares this goal.”

The American Jewish Committee released a statement welcoming Lapid’s comments and calling for direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians toward a two-state goal.

Peace talks have been on the back-burner since 2014, when negotiations led by then US secretary of state John Kerry fell apart. Since then, the Palestinians refused to engage with the Trump administration, which made several moves seen as favoring Israel, and Biden has focused most of his diplomatic efforts on China and now Ukraine.

Lapid’s predecessor Naftali Bennett was opposed to Palestinian statehood and his Yamina party conditioned its entry into the government on there being no push toward a negotiated solution with the Palestinians.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the welcoming ceremony for US President Joe Biden at Ben Gurion Airport on July 13, 2022 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

AIPAC said Lapid’s speech “showcased the spirit of Israel to the world,” and quoted parts of the address, though not the comments on a two-state solution. Earlier it retweeted excerpts of the speech from Lapid’s account, including the two-state comments.

Americans for Peace Now called the speech “a welcome and refreshing development,” but added that his comments “are not backed up by policies of his government.”

“Actions speak louder than words,” it said. “While we welcome Lapid’s lauding the concept of peace and his endorsement of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we urge his government and the government that will be formed in Israel following the November 1st elections to seek peace and pursue it through real action.”

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