Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid said Sunday that Israel should accept the Arab Peace Initiative, put forward in 2002 by Saudi Arabia, as the basis for negotiations with the Palestinians and the Arab world.
In a lengthy foreign policy speech, Lapid lambasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a “failed diplomatic policy,” and said it was unacceptable that Israel had yet to respond to the plan in the 13 years since it was first proposed by Saudi King Abdullah.
“Netanyahu does not give us security. His policies don’t bring security. In recent years he has only caused damage to Israel’s security,” Lapid said.
He also accused Netanyahu of damaging relations with the United States by taking on the Obama administration over the Iran nuclear deal, thereby weakening Israel’s position in the region.
He said Netanyahu’s efforts to block the Iran deal by addressing Congress without coordination with President Barack Obama was an act of “arrogance and bluntness.”
“To travel to speak before Congress behind the president’s back under the auspices of the Republican Party, only because you have [upcoming] elections in Israel, is an act of national irresponsibility.” Lapid said.
“I don’t know if the people of Israel have understood yet the extent of the damage caused by Netanyahu, not only on the deal but also the wider implications. A responsible leader, a responsible prime minister who really cared for Israel’s national resilience, would have acted entirely differently,” he added.
Lapid said Israel’s shared concerns with Gulf states over the Iran deal should have been seized as an opportunity for regional cooperation.
“We should have offered to work together to build something that is sorely missing: an overall coherent strategy against the threat posed by Iran beyond the nuclear issue, a country trying to establish itself as a regional power through terrorism.”
Lapid delivered his speech to a conference of business leaders at Bar-Ilan University, drawing comparisons to Netanyahu’s own 2009 address at the same institution in which he endorsed the notion of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. There, in what later came to be known as his “Bar-Ilan speech,” Netanyahu accepted the Road Map proposal to freeze settlement construction but demanded any future Palestinian state be demilitarized with no army or control of airspace.
Lapid, whose centrist Yesh Atid party is currently serving in the opposition, has announced that he will challenge Netanyahu for the premiership in the next elections, making the choice of venue symbolic.
Like Netanyahu, Lapid said a future Palestinian state must be demilitarized, but did not go into details on contentious issues such as the right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, Jerusalem, and control over holy sites.
Lapid admitted failings in the Saudi initiative but said it must form the basis for future negotiations.
“The sides agree in advance on the main thing: separation which will lead Israel to coalesce to the large settlement blocs, clearly defined security measures and the creation of a demilitarized independent Palestinian state,” he said.
The Likud party hit back at Lapid saying his speech displayed “ignorance and naivete.”
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, a senior member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, attacked the plan on Twitter, saying, “To be clear, when Lapid talks about separation from the Palestinians, he mean [Israeli] withdrawals and evacuations.”
The speech comes as Lapid attempts to present himself as an alternative leader to Netanyahu, increasingly focusing on issues relating to security and international diplomacy.
In the run-up to Knesset elections in March, Lapid proposed that Israel push for a regional agreement, suggesting the prime minister travel to the Arab League summit in Cairo.
“A regional agreement might give the Egyptians who already work to keep the Sinai quiet, and the Jordanians who have also maintained their peace treaty with us, a role in helping us ensure our own security,” he said at the time.
First adopted by the Arab League in 2002, the Arab Peace Initiative has become a hot political commodity again since the organization mentioned for the first time the possibility of mutual agreed land swaps between Israel and the Palestinians. The move was widely understood as a nod to changed realities on the ground that would allow Israel to retain major settlement blocs in the West Bank in a future final-status agreement.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.