Israel’s dovish kingmaker bears talons

Israel’s dovish kingmaker bears talons

Stephen is the Jewish News' Foreign Editor

Yair Lapid
Yair Lapid

Israel’s ‘centrist’ election hero Yair Lapid has reiterated his stance on the Palestinians, saying that Jerusalem would be the undivided capital of Israel and calling Mahmoud Abbas “a founding father of victimhood,” writes Stephen Oryszczuk.

In a series of wide-ranging interviews, the Yesh Atid leader also said that he would do nothing to stop the “natural expansion” of West Bank settlements.

Finance Minister Lapid, who has since seen his popularity plummet as austerity measures begin to bite, described how he still thought a two-state solution was “crucial” but that huge obstacles needed to be overcome.

“Israelis want peace and security and Palestinians want peace and justice – these are two very different things,” Lapid said. “Abbas is still not psychologically ready for an agreement with Israel,” he added.

The journalist-turned-politician also praised his new boss, saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “more willing, more prepared than people tend to think” to cut a deal with the Palestinians.

On Jerusalem, Lapid was explicit, saying: “Jerusalem is not a place, it is an idea. Jerusalem is the capital of the Israeli state.”

Speaking about East Jerusalem, the 49-year old said he would neither curb expansion nor curtail the financial incentives offered Israelis to move there, adding: “We didn’t come here for nothing”.

Lapid acknowledged that any final deal with the Palestinians would see tens of thousands of Jewish settlers uprooted – something he called “heartbreaking”. However, he maintained that Israel would hold onto the major blocs, thought to comprise about 300,000 people.

Lapid’s one-year old party Yesh Atid wrong-footed predictions in January, wining 19 seats in the country’s election. It led the media to dub Lapid ‘the kingmaker,’ and together with pro-settler group Jewish Home, headed by former settlement leader Naftali Bennett, Lapid is in a strong position to influence government policy in these areas.

However, Lapid’s strong showing in January was on the back of a campaign that focused on socio-economic issues. While he has previously called for an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, his views on the Palestinians and settlements have taken a back seat.

Despite his coy positioning on such issues, there have been strong clues as to his leaning, such as when he chose the controversial settlement of Ariel to unveil his party’s political platform last year.

On that occasion, he said: “You don’t come to negotiations only with an olive branch, the way the left does, or only with a gun, the way the right does. You come to find a solution. We’re not looking for a happy marriage with the Palestinians, but for a divorce agreement we can live with.”

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