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Netanyahu backed 'peace based on 2 states' in 2016 UN speech

Lapid to back two-state solution in UN address; is slammed by rivals and some allies

Prime minister slated to offer ‘hope and vision through strength’; right-wing ministers criticize intended remarks, while lawmakers from left support move and urge talks with Abbas

Prime Minister Yair Lapid, aides and security personnel in New York on September 21 (Avi Ohayon / GPO)
Prime Minister Yair Lapid, aides and security personnel in New York on September 21 (Avi Ohayon / GPO)

NEW YORK — In his address to the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, Prime Minister Yair Lapid will include an explicit call for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, an official close to the Israeli leader said Wednesday.

The revelation drew both criticism from right-wing ministers in Lapid’s eight-party coalition, and support from some of his allies on the left.

Lapid’s speech will have four sections and offer “hope and vision through strength,” said the official in a briefing to reporters. The prime minister will stress that “Israel must move toward a two-state solution.”

“For many years, no Israeli prime minister has said this on the UN stage,” the official said.

But Lapid will also use his speech to emphasize the risks Israel is not willing to take.

“We will not do anything that will endanger the security of Israel and Israelis by even a centimeter,” the official explained, “but separation from the Palestinians must be part of our diplomatic vision, part of the hope through strength worldview.”

Interior MinisterAyelet Shaked during an election campaign event of the Jewish Home Party in Givat Shmuel, September 20, 2022. (Flash90)

In response, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked tweeted that Lapid has “no public legitimacy to entangle Israel with statements that cause damage to the country.”

Shaked — who has publicly apologized for sitting in the coalition in which she still serves, and who now heads the right-wing Jewish Home party — added that Lapid was speaking only for himself and not the government.

“Establishing a terror state in Judea and Samaria will endanger Israel’s security,” tweeted Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar of the National Unity party, using the biblical names for the West Bank.

Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who is retiring from politics but remains a cabinet minister, wrote that “there is no place or logic in floating anew the idea of a Palestinian state.”

“The year is 2022, not 1993,” Bennett said, referring to the period when the Oslo Accords were signed between Israel and the Palestinians. “Even Israel’s true friends also don’t expect us to compromise on our security. There is no reason to volunteer to do so,” he added, urging that “there is no place for another country between Jordan and the [Mediterranean] Sea.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid, right, with Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on September 18, 2022. (Olivier Fitousi/Flash90)

Bennett was prime minister from June 2021 until June this year. During that period he vowed to not meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whereas Lapid has not ruled such a meeting out. Lapid took over as prime minister as part of a rotation arrangement with Bennett that was triggered when the government fell and elections were set for November 1.

Environment Minister Tamar Zandberg of the dovish Meretz party said it would be “the right step” for Lapid to make such a declaration, and that Israel “should lead this process, and turn over every stone until it is achieved.”

Meretz MK Mossi Raz tweeted his support for Lapid’s expected declaration “toward peace and the two-state solution that will bring an end to the cycle of bloodshed.” Raz called on Lapid to already act towards that goal by meeting with Abbas.

Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg, arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on September 11, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

From the opposition, the Likud party slammed Lapid for wanting “to establish a Palestinian state on the border” of central Israeli locations and “hand over homeland territory to our enemies.”

Likud claimed that “for years” former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu “managed to keep Palestinian issues off the world agenda, and Lapid returned Abbas to the center stage in less than a year.”

However, as prime minister in 2016, Netanyahu did express support for the two-state solution during his speech to the UN General Assembly. “I have not given up on peace,” Netanyahu said in that address. “I remain committed to a vision of peace based on two states for two peoples. I believe as never before that changes taking place in the Arab world today offer a unique opportunity to advance that peace.”

Addressing Abbas, he added in that speech: “I invite you to speak to the Israeli people at the Knesset in Jerusalem. And I would gladly come to speak to the Palestinian parliament in Ramallah.”

Opposition MK Aida Touma-Sliman of the Hadash-Ta’al alliance of Arab parties tweeted that while Lapid is declaring his support for a Palestinian state on the world stage, “in Israel he is leading entrenchment of the occupation [of Palestinian territories].

“We have had enough of public relations declarations,” she wrote. “Lapid: The time has come to say Palestinian state from the podium of the Knesset.”

US President Joe Biden in his address to the UN on Wednesday said that the two-state solution is the best strategy to pursue for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been moribund since 2014, although Defense Minister Benny Gantz traveled to Ramallah to meet with Abbas in July this year.

The Israeli official said Wednesday that Lapid will also use his UN speech to emphasize that Israel will not allow Iran to become a nuclear state, and will act alone to carry out a strike, if necessary.

That freedom of action “is agreed upon between us and the Americans. We will act by ourselves. We don’t need to ask anyone for permission,” he said.

“But we also must offer the world an alternative to what happened in recent months,” the official explained, “the rush that was stopped to a large extent because of our involvement in the JCPOA.”

Negotiations to revive the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action were reportedly a few weeks ago closing in on a deal, but have since stalled. As the talks advanced Israel stepped up diplomatic efforts to thwart their progress, warning that the emerging terms were not strong enough to prevent Iran becoming a nuclear-armed state.

“We must tell the world, we have to go toward a better, longer, stronger agreement, and base it on the fact that the world will present a credible military option on the table,” the official said.

Lapid on Wednesday discussed the Iran deal during a meeting in New York with UK Prime Minister Liz Truss. Lapid stressed the need to avoid further compromises with Iran during the negotiations, which the UK is a party to, Lapid’s office said.

Lapid’s speech will also address Israel’s delegitimization within the global body, the official said.

“We are going to tell the world, we are not guests at the UN. We are proud members of the United Nations, and we will not accept this stage being used to spread lies about Israel. We will defend our good name,” he said.

Lapid will also turn to countries across the Middle East that have not joined the Abraham Accords and Negev Forum which have already led to normalization between Israel and several Arab states.

“Our goal is to expand the circle of peace, and an international call on this has value,” he said.

Lapid is expected to give his address in the early afternoon local time, before heading straight to the airport to return to Israel.

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