'It's ours -- not like the West Bank or anything'

Lapid asks US lawmakers to recognize Israeli sovereignty of Golan Heights

Speaking to reporters in Washington, Yesh Atid leader laments that ‘it has become more complicated to arrange bipartisan support for Israel issues’

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

WASHINGTON — Visiting the US capital on Monday, Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid met with high-level American lawmakers, urging the United States to recognize Israeli sovereignty over in Golan Heights.

“It’s time for the world to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” he told reporters, shortly after he addressed the influential Brookings Institution on the same subject.

“Israel has declared sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” Lapid said. “There were all kinds of discussions throughout the years, but this is over, because it is so obvious that nobody in their right mind is going to give the Golan Heights to a mass murderer who just killed half a million of his own people.”

Referring to Bashar Assad’s reign of power in Syria, in which he is accused of brutalizing his own people and carrying out war crimes, including the use of chemical weapons, Lapid insisted that any Israeli handover of territory to the regime was off the table — and that it was time for the international community to recognize that.

“Now that the risks are so obvious, we will never renegotiate the Golan Heights,” he said. “It’s ours and always has been. It’s not like the West Bank or anything.”

Israeli Merkava Mark IV tanks take positions near the Syrian border in the Golan Heights on May 10, 2018. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and annexed the territory in the early 1980s. But the United States and the international community have long considered it Syrian territory under Israeli occupation.

In a roundtable discussion with a small group of reporters, organized by the Washington-based Israel Project, Lapid said he was not meeting with any members of the Trump administration. The two officials who would handle this issue, he said, had just came back from their trip to the Middle East to advance their Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

Lapid’s visit comes as Trump’s special envoy and son-in-law Jared Kushner and special envoy for Middle East peace, Jason Greenblatt, returned from the region where they held meetings with leaders from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Qatar.

They did not meet with any Palestinian Authority officials, who have refused to cooperate with the White House since Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in Jerusalem and subsequently moved the embassy there.

US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner (right) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on June 22, 2018. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem/Flash90)

Kushner, however, gave an interview to the East Jerusalem-based Al Quds newspaper last week in which he told Palestinians that PA President Mahmoud Abbas should not “scare them” from accepting  the Trump peace plan, which he has said will be released in the near future.

Lapid, for his part, suggested he wasn’t holding his breath for the release of the Kushner-led framework. “They said ‘weeks’ a month ago,” he noted.

“I cannot think of anyone they could have talked with and didn’t already,” Lapid added. “I think they want, from what I gather, is for the Sunni states to be part of this pressuring the Palestinians that they cannot just decline the opportunity.”

Lapid also castigated Abbas for what he depicted as his intransigence, suggesting the PA chief could not deliver any peace agreement nor withstand the strain from his political base to reject any proposal.

“There’s a myth that says Abu Mazen is the last of the Tunis generation and therefore the last of the generation and therefore the last of the generation who can make peace,” Lapid said. “I completely disagree. I think he’s the last of the generation who is totally incapable of signing anything. For them, it’s betraying the Palestinian ethos.”

US presidential adviser Jared Kushner, left, meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on June 21, 2017 (PA press office)

Lapid predicted Abbas would respond to the Trump peace plan much in the same way former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat handled the Camp David Summit that the Clinton administration brokered in 2000, in which former prime minister Ehud Barak made a peace offer to Arafat, and he refused to make a counter offer and walked away.

“It will be a more civilized copy of what Arafat did in Camp David, which is trying to play the game until the last minute in order to win the blame game, but [maintain] total non-acceptance to the idea of a Jewish state in the neighborhood,” Lapid said. He added that he was more hopeful about future Palestinian leaders, who he said were “more practical, pragmatic, who are more used to working with Israelis after 30 years of security cooperation.”

Those Palestinians, he said, included Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, Jibril Rajoub and Mohammed Dahlan. “None of them is a Zionist,” Lapid said. “But I think they understand that we need to more forward.”

Lapid’s Washington itinerary included meetings with Republicans Senators Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton, and Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

He will also meet with other members of the Democratic caucus, in a gathering organized by Florida Rep. Ted Deutch.

Noting that he was having separate meetings with legislators who reside on different sides of the aisle, Lapid said, “It has become more complicated to arrange bipartisan support for Israel issues.”

Commenting on recent surveys that suggest that Republicans and Democrats are increasingly divided on Israel, and that Democratic support is ebbing, Lapid suggested Israel needs to reach out more effectively to Democrats, while addressing issues at home that are alienating left-leaning Americans. “We have to do a better job not only on the PR side, but the policy side,” he said.

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