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Lapid: Israel should approach Arab League for regional agreement

Freshly ousted ex-finance minister and prime ministeral candidate slams Netanyahu for having no plan for separating from Palestinians

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid speaks at a conference at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem on December 11, 2014 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid speaks at a conference at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem on December 11, 2014 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Immediately after the upcoming elections, Israel’s prime minister should approach the Arab League and initiate a process leading to a peace agreement with the Palestinians and wider Arab-Israel reconciliation, MK Yair Lapid said Thursday.

The recently ousted former finance minister also went on the attack against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his regional policies, saying that after nearly two years as a member of the security cabinet, he still didn’t know what Netanyahu’s vision is for the Palestinian question.

“War is not a way of life,” Lapid declared at the Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic conference in Jerusalem. “We should turn to the Arab League and begin negotiations which will lead to a regional agreement and a separation from the Palestinians.”

Rather than entering another round of bilateral peace negotiations with the Palestinians, Israel should seek to discuss the matter with the larger Arab world, the Yesh Atid party chairman said. “What we need to change isn’t what we talk about, but who we’re talking with.” Without the moderate Arab world’s agreement, the Palestinians will “never dare reach a deal,” he said.

Just after the March 17, 2015, elections, the Arab League is to hold a summit in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, during which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be discussed by regional leaders.

“Immediately after the elections I will suggest to [Egyptian] President [Abdel Fatah el-] Sissi that the new prime minister of Israel come to Sharm el Sheikh to the Arab League and announce the beginning of regional dialogue to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Lapid declared. He did not specify who he thinks will be Israel’s prime minister at that time, but recently indicated that he is a candidate for the position.

“It’s an opportunity we must not miss. Egypt, along with Saudi Arabia, leads the alliance of moderate states — an informal coalition of Arab countries which share an interest in working with the West to stop the advance of radical Islam. Israel should be an integral part of that coalition, and we have a significant amount to contribute to that fight.”

After the Arab League meet in late March, Israel should convene a “regional summit,” Lapid said, “which will lead to a separation agreement between Israel and the Palestinians and discuss normalization between Israel and the Arab world.”

Lapid made plain that he is not talking about full-fledged peace, at least not in the first few years after an agreement, but rather a “solid agreement which will lead to a clear separation between two peoples who can’t live together in the same land.”

A regional agreement will not provide Israel with “a hermetic solution against terror,” Lapid allowed. “But 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.”

After a hundred years of conflict, the two sides cannot be expected to immediately trust each other, he suggested. “Give us ten years of living separately and securely and then we can talk about trust.”

During his speech, Lapid did not comment on Wednesday’s dramatic merger of center-left Labor and Hatnua parties. He did, however, launch a bitter attack against the prime minister, who had unceremoniously fired him on December 2.

“It is amazing that having sat with the prime minister as a member of the security cabinet for nearly two years, I still cannot describe his plan for our future security,” Lapid said. “I don’t think anyone could outline where the prime minister thinks we should go from here. Not even he can describe his own plan, because what I have learned from sitting next to him in the security cabinet is that he has no plan.”

Furthermore, Israel’s relations with the US “require rehabilitation” after Netanyahu’s time as prime minister, Lapid said.

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