Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid played down his prime ministerial ambitions on Saturday, in sharp contrast to a widely publicized statement he made after the January 2013 elections in which he boasted that he would be the next premier. He also said that his party will do everything it can so that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not win another term.
Asked whether he was competing to be prime minister in the March 2015 elections, Lapid replied: “No, the debate about whether I am in the running for the premiership is not the point. The number of seats Yesh Atid will receive [in the March 17 elections] will [help] determine who will be the next prime minister.”
Speaking at a cultural event in Holon Saturday afternoon, Lapid added: “Yesh Atid will do everything possible so that Netanyahu will not be prime minister.”
Lapid did not rule out sitting in a coalition with any Israeli party, including the ultra-Orthodox factions. This was, again, in contrast to the last elections, after which he and then ally Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, conditioned their joining Netanyahu’s coalition on the haredi parties being excluded.
In a wide-ranging question and answer session, the former finance minister also spoke about Israel’s ties with the US, the 50-day summer war Israel fought with Hamas in and around Gaza, and his visions for peace with the Palestinians, which would not include the division of Jerusalem.
“We can reach an agreement without giving up Jerusalem. We will not divide Jerusalem. No matter what happens.”
“States do not conduct negotiations over their capital cities,” the former finance minister added, before making additional commentary on how to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“You have to separate from the Palestinians and not forget their heroes are people in black masks like the Islamic State that cut people’s heads off.”
Lapid asserted, however, that the Palestinians would not join forces with the jihadist group because, he contended, “they are afraid of radical Islam.”
“We need to go to the Arab League, and begin negotiations through them,” Lapid said.
MK Zahava Gal-on, the chairperson for the left-wing Meretz party, criticized Lapid’s statements on Jerusalem, saying the Yesh Atid leader was promising “a political settlement that is disconnected from reality.”
“There will be no political settlement without dividing the sovereignty of Jerusalem, and those who make statements like that do not mean to reach an agreement and compromise,” Gal-on was quoted as saying in a Walla report. “Lapid is breaking a new record in lying and contempt with the Israeli public.”
Lapid also used the forum to direct heavy criticism at Netanyahu, saying he “has done his best to destroy our relationship with the US” and that Israel exhibited “diplomatic cowardice” in the aftermath of the summer’s Gaza war.
The Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Obama administration have often gone head to head, sometimes publicly, over a variety of issues, including disagreements over the ongoing talks with Iran on its nuclear program, continued Israeli settlement activity and perceived Israeli intransigence on peace talks. Some of the differences have deteriorated into exchanges of name-calling between officials, reports of snubbing and other uncommon behavior between allies.
In the aftermath of the summer war, Lapid said Israel should have taken an active role in Gaza reconstruction talks and demanded the demilitarization of the Strip.
“Netanyahu was anxious that we had not appeared determined enough during the operation and then going to the [Cairo-hosted] reconstruction summit would look like weakness,” Lapid said, calling this a mistake.
“After Operation Protective Edge, there was no political effort to be part of the process [of rebuilding] the Gaza Strip. Western countries contributed $5 billion without an Israeli representative present to protect Israeli interests, without obtaining the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip and without any concessions from Hamas,” Lapid stated. “Netanyahu’s only interest is his own survival.”
Sources in the Likud party hit back, saying Lapid’s statements were “nonsense from a failed, frightened and frustrated politician.”
Lapid served as finance minister under Netanyahu until he was fired, along with Tzipi Livni as justice minister, in early December, as Netanyahu announced early elections — now scheduled for March 17, 2015.
Lapid’s Yesh Atid party is currently projected by polls to suffer heavy losses in the coming elections, with most surveys showing it halving its Knesset standing from 19 Knesset seats last time to 10 or less.