Lapid: Islamist threat is opportunity for ties with Arab states

Alliances against extremism are forming around Israel, ‘and we must take advantage of them’ while supporting a Palestinian state, finance minister urges

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

Yair Lapid. (Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)
Yair Lapid. (Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)

Jerusalem must grab the opportunity created by the world’s fear of extremist Islamist terrorism to create an alliance with moderate Arab states, Finance Minister Yair Lapid urged Monday, saying that the Arab world’s position during Operation Protective Edge proves that it is ready to establish ties with Israel, if only Israel would agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

“This is a moment of opportunity and we should take advantage of it to separate from the Palestinians and establish relations with the Arab world,” Lapid said.

“The world is undergoing rapid change. New coalitions based on shared interests are forming around us, and we must take advantage of them,” he added. “Hamas is isolated, President [Abdel-Fattah] el-Sissi of Egypt has interests that are similar to ours, the moderate Arab states are scared of the rise of extremist Islam and ISIS has awoken the United States and Europe.”

Think that such a regional alliance is unrealistic? Consider a statement made by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal on August 21, Lapid urged. “At the peak of the operation in Gaza he called for coexistence with Israel, the end of hatred toward the Jewish state and he placed the responsibility for the conflict squarely on Hamas,” according to the finance minister, who is a member of the security cabinet.

To defeat terror Israel needs to remember that there are some groups with whom it cannot negotiate, Lapid said, referring to Hamas and other groups dedicated to the Jewish state’s destruction.

In addition, Jerusalem should present an alternative to terror — by creating a “coalition of sanity,” he said. “To create the regional table in which we are a part of the fight against terror and our intelligence is part of the regional effort against the Islamic State, Hezbollah and al-Qaeda.”

Speaking at the World Summit on Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, Lapid reiterated his call for a regional conference, attended by Israel, the Palestinian Authority and moderate Arab states including Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, during which the rehabilitation of Gaza after this summer’s war would be linked to the Strip’s demilitarization.

“The diplomatic process is stuck. The regional conference is the only idea currently on the table,” Lapid said, adding that he and his Yesh Atid party would support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against attacks by far-right members of the coalition.

“Comparing the disconnected fantasy of a ‘New Middle East’ to a new alliance of shared interests, I prefer an alliance of interests,” Lapid declared. “We are not looking for friendship and fellowship with the Palestinians, but a diplomatic solution that will allow us to achieve the demilitarization of Gaza and the creation of a joint front with the Arab world against the insanity of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.”

During and after Operation Protective Edge, Netanyahu has repeatedly spoken of a “possible diplomatic horizon” for Israel, referring to cooperation with moderate Arab states, but so far failed to provide more detail. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on Sunday did not outright dismiss Lapid’s proposal of a regional conference, but said he currently does not see such an event on the horizon.

“I have no illusions about the Arab world,” Lapid said Monday. “They don’t love us. They see us as a foreign insert in the Middle East. But the struggle has changed. The real war today is between the sane and the insane.” Radical Islam, which is “out of control,” presents a danger for the PA and the moderate Arab states as much as for Israel, he said. But, as opposed to the past, now “they are saying it loudly and clearly.”

During his speech, Lapid also criticized the government’s decision to seize 988 acres of land near the West Bank settlement of Gvaot south of Jerusalem. He supports strengthening the settlement blocs, but such land grabs provoke the ire of the United States, he lamented. Soon the Americans “will have enough of waking up in the morning and hearing that we annexed 1,000 acres in the Etzion bloc and published tenders for hundreds of housing units without even notifying them.” In talks with foreign officials he is repeatedly being told that “this isn’t how friends behave,” he said.

“Instead of fighting with them, we should recruit them and work towards a regional conference in which we explain to the world that Israel’s security will always be in Israel’s hands,” Lapid said, “but we are ready to separate from the Palestinians and be part of the coalition against Islamic terrorism.”

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