Israeli interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid, in just 29 words from the rostrum of the UN General Assembly, radically changed the fifth electoral round of elections from the first four electoral cycles of the past two and a half years.
From the rostrum of one of the world’s largest international diplomatic forums, he said, “An agreement with the Palestinians based on two states for two peoples, is the right thing for Israel’s security, for Israel’s economy and for the future of our children.” After Lapid’s speech at the UN, the distinction between left and right camps in Israel itself became clear once again.
In order to understand the impact of this statement on Israeli politics, it is perhaps important to analyze how Lapid, who never came anywhere near winning an election as prime ministerial candidate, became the one who now represents Israel on the world stage, and how he does it. The Israelis will soon move into their fifth election cycle in less than three years. The first four inconclusive elections focused on one, and only one, question: whether then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was fit to continue in his high office amid a spate of corruption allegations. The contenders, including Lapid, repeatedly claimed during the election campaigns that there was little disagreement between the left and right parties on major foreign and security policy issues of the state.
Lapid finally succeeded in removing Netanyahu from his position after a fourth campaign, despite Netanyahu’s Likud party’s solid electoral victory. He prevented Netanyahu from forming a government, in effect bribing Naftali Bennett to become prime minister. And this (despite the fact that Bennett only got 5% of the vote) was in return for him leaving his constituency and going over to Lapid’s camp. Bennett also reneged on his repeated pre-election promises to never enter into a coalition with Lapid or pursue a joint policy with him.
It is important to understand that Lapid offered the post of prime minister to his fellow MP, Bennett, because he could not come close to forming a majority coalition government. Bennett took the bait to realize his personal ambitions and became prime minister under an arrangement with Lapid for a one-year rotation. The coalition they formed included every single left-wing member of parliament. In particular, the Islamist self-proclaimed anti-Zionist party, which, according to the Israeli media, is an official branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (the organization banned in the Russian Federation). In addition, some right-wing defectors joined the coalition. They insisted that Netanyahu’s continued rule posed a greater threat to Israeli stability than bringing in leftists and Islamists into key government ministries, including foreign affairs, defense and energy. All members of the coalition agreed on one thing: regardless of their different ideologies, the question of Palestinian statehood would not be raised. However, despite the coalition agreement, it soon became clear that Lapid and his partners were laying the groundwork for a future return to the two-state paradigm.
Minister of Defense Benny Gantz and other left-wing ministers, including members of the far-left party Meretz, Minister of Health Nitzan Horowitz, Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg and Minister of Regional Cooperation Issawi Frej, met Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, breaking a nearly 10-year boycott by Netanyahu-led Israeli government ministers. Gantz even received Abbas at his home in Rosh HaAyin, and Abbas made his first diplomatic visit to uncontested Israeli territory in more than a decade. Gantz has repeatedly claimed that these meetings had only to do with important security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Barely a year after the government was formed, the Bennett-led government collapsed – as many predicted and, according to a confusing coalition agreement, the dissolution of parliament and Bennett’s subsequent resignation immediately led to the appointment of Lapid as “interim” prime minister until a new government could be formed following the November 1 elections.
Nevertheless, after Lapid’s speech at the UN, a clear distinction between the Israeli left and right camps was once again evident. And it has great potential to be the defining issue of Israel’s fifth election cycle. By formally acknowledging his belief that “an agreement with the Palestinians based on two states for two peoples, is the right thing for Israel’s security, for Israel’s economy and for the future of our children,” Lapid has changed the electoral paradigm. He wants to return to the issue that has defined the difference between the left and the right since former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the, according to the Israeli press, “infamous Oslo Accords of 1993.” The Oslo Accords divided the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria into separate but non-contiguous areas under Israeli and Palestinian control and were to lay the foundation for a formal two-state agreement based on the land-for-peace paradigm.
Many in Israel and around the world are now asking a very important question: does Lapid genuinely want a Palestinian state, or is this just another campaign stunt? In this regard, former Prime Minister and current opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed himself rather bluntly and sharply, “After a right-wing government led by me took the Palestinian state off the world’s agenda, after we made four historic peace agreements with Arab countries that overrode the Palestinian veto, Lapid is bringing the Palestinians back to the forefront of the world stage and driving Israel right into the Palestinian hole.” Harsher and more direct threats were made by Minister of Justice Gideon Sa’ar, who told The Jerusalem Post that the establishment of a terrorist state in Judea and Samaria would jeopardize Israel’s security and that most Israelis and their representatives would not allow this to happen. And in the upcoming elections on November 1, it is not at all clear who will win, who will be the permanent prime minister and who will completely determine foreign and domestic policy – Lapid or Netanyahu?
The Palestinians themselves have little faith in the words of the current interim prime minister. Criticizing the Israeli government and its security forces, Palestinian Authority President Abbas said that Israel acts with total impunity against people in the Gaza Strip and West Bank and that Palestinian confidence in the prospects for peace is diminishing. Israel “is, through its premeditated and deliberate policies, destroying the two-state solution,” the Palestinian president said in his address to the UN General Assembly. “This proves unequivocally that Israel does not believe in peace,” he added. “Therefore, we no longer have an Israeli partner to whom we can talk.” Abbas said Israel was waging a campaign to confiscate land in the occupied territories and was giving the military complete freedom to kill or otherwise use excessive force against Palestinians. “This is the truth: they are an apartheid regime,” he said.
Demanding that the international community hold Israel accountable “for the massacres they have committed,” Abbas accused members of the United Nations of “protecting Israel” from such accountability. He reiterated the Palestinian position that the “Israeli case” should be referred to the International Criminal Court in order for it to be forced to “assume its legal, political, moral and financial responsibilities.” Israel’s staunch ally, the United States, is urging and putting enormous pressure on the Palestinians not to pursue the case before the ICC, brazenly arguing that the court is unfairly pursuing Israel. And what on earth can one expect from the international gendarme which has already “punished” several dozen countries of the world with just a stick and a cudgel?
Returning to Lapid’s speech, it can be stated that he has so far held left-wing and progressive views, positioning himself as a “centrist” through a predominantly left-wing media. Nevertheless, Lapid’s speech at the UN clearly identifies him as the leader of Israel’s left wing and demonstrates where he and his governing coalition will lead Israel if he is elected as permanent prime minister. Regardless of whether Lapid loses the election or not, or whether Netanyahu becomes prime minister again, the main issue facing Israelis in the current election is now the question of the basis for the existence of the State of Israel, not just that of a single individual.
It seems that in this case one should carefully consider Russia’s point of view, whose position on the settlement of the Palestinian problem remains unchanged: it must be resolved in accordance with the approaches of the UN Security Council and taking into account the interests of all inhabitants of the region. “The position of the Russian Federation on the Palestinian issue, on the settlement of the Palestinian problem, remains unchanged,” Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stated, adding that“the Palestinian issue must be resolved in accordance with previous decisions taken at the level of the United Nations Security Council, on a just basis that takes into account the interests of all the people who live in the region, on the basis of two independent states.”
Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.