Lapid: We must fix ‘crisis’ in ties with Washington

Centrist finance minister says relations with US must urgently be repaired; Opposition head Herzog demands new elections

Itamar Sharon is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Finance Minister Yair Lapid on September 7, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Finance Minister Yair Lapid on September 7, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Finance Minister Yair Lapid admitted on Saturday that Israel was experiencing a low point in its relationship with the US, saying “there is a crisis with the Americans and it must be dealt with like a crisis.”

Lapid told an audience at an event in Tel Aviv that “we must not pretend that there is no crisis. The relationship with the US is vital and we must do everything in order to (repair it).”

Relations between Washington and Jerusalem, which counts the US as its most important ally, have hit regular road bumps over the last several years and the administrations have aired differences over peace talks, settlement building, Iran’s nuclear program and other issues.

Most recently, news that a Jerusalem planning committee had signed off on the final stage of approval for housing in a major new neighborhood of East Jerusalem prompted the administration to issue some of the strongest language it has employed to condemn Israel, including the warning that Israel was endangering its relations with “even its closest allies.”

US officials admitted Friday that the Obama administration this week refused Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s requests to meet several top national security aides due to its anger over negative comments he made about Secretary of State John Kerry’s Mideast peace efforts and nuclear negotiations with Iran.

“Relations with the United States are of crucial importance and we need to do all we can to end this crisis,” Lapid said. “Israel must do everything to return to positive relations… If we were not in this crisis I have no doubt that Israel would have been involved in the regional conference in Egypt” on rehabilitating Gaza.

Lapid went on to blame Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for breaking off negotiations with Israel, and said that “it’s very difficult to sit and negotiate when Abu Mazen [Abbas] speaks of martyrs on the Temple Mount. The only real solution is a regional diplomatic process,” he said.

“I want a separation from the Palestinians. The State of Israel isn’t able to absorb four million Palestinians, time is running out and I am not willing to let this happen. When my father came to Israel from the ghetto he didn’t move here to live in a bi-national state, I won’t stand aside and watch Israel become a bi-national state.”

Health Minister Yael German of Lapid’s Yesh Atid party said Saturday that she believed her party leader intended to seek the premiership in the next election.

“Yair Lapid is ready to be prime minister,” she said at a culture event in Beersheba. “He knows how to withstand pressure. He has his solid set of beliefs. I truly hope that he will be prime minister, and then he will advance the peace process and the issues of (separation between) religion and state.”

German noted that her statements were only her personal opinion. “We’re not talking about him running inside the party,” she said.

During his trip, Ya’alon did see Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power. But US officials said the White House and State Department rejected Israeli proposals for meetings with Vice President Joe Biden, national security adviser Susan Rice and Kerry on his five-day trip to the United States. The administration had sought to stop Ya’alon from seeing Power but the objections were made too late to cancel the meeting, according to the officials.

In January Ya’alon called Kerry “obsessive” and “messianic” about Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which came to an abrupt halt in April. Ya’alon also privately derided Kerry’s security proposals for an Israeli pullout from the West Bank. Ya’alon also infuriated officials in Washington with comments accusing the administration of being weak on Iran and questioning the US commitment to Israel’s security.

Labor Party chairman MK Isaac Herzog leads a party meeting in the Knesset on February 03, 2014 (photo credit: Flash90)
Labor Party chairman MK Isaac Herzog leads a party meeting in the Knesset on February 03, 2014 (photo credit: Flash90)

In other comments Saturday, Opposition Head Isaac Herzog attacked the government, and demanded new elections, saying that “there is no justification for the continued existence of a government under whose watch societal gaps have deepened, the cost of living and housing has risen and the burden placed upon the middle class has grown.”

Labor leader Herzog asserted that Israeli society was paying the price for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unwillingness to endanger the stability of his coalition by taking action which would anger other coalition partners.

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