Liberal critics of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were quick to seize on the results of the recent Knesset election that the Israeli people had rendered a negative verdict on his stands on the peace process. Left-wing parties that blamed Netanyahu and his government may have fared poorly in the vote and even the Labor Party abandoned a peace platform in the hope of winning back centrist voters who have understandably given up on the Palestinians. Yet that hasn’t stopped some talking heads from jumping to the conclusion that Netanyahu’s showing was proof that Israelis were actually voting for a renewed emphasis on negotiations and would approve of foreign pressure on their government to make concessions.
But the latest statement by the man whose party was the big winner in the election makes it clear that any idea that Israelis cast their ballot on other issues. Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party was the runner up in the vote as the former journalists new faction came out of nowhere to win 19 Knesset seats and made him the lynchpin of any future coalition headed by Netanyahu. Yet despite the hopes of some Americans that he represents a different point of view about peace, yesterday he told a gathering of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations that his views were very much in line with those of Netanyahu. As Haaretz reports, the only criticism about Israel’s negotiating stance that he uttered was of Netanyahu’s predecessor for offering to give away too much:
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid opposes any division of Jerusalem as part of negotiations with the Palestinians, he said on Tuesday evening.
“Ehud Olmert’s government went too far” in its talks with the Palestinians, Lapid said. “It was wrong when it began discussing issues that bore waiting on, such as Jerusalem and the right of return. I oppose any withdrawal in Jerusalem, which isn’t only a place, but an idea as well.”
This places Lapid very much on the same page with Netanyahu and in clear opposition to the terms that many American liberals and President Obama has endorsed. In 2008, Olmert offered Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas an independent Palestinian state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a large share of Jerusalem. Abbas fled the talks rather than formally turn the deal down. But Lapid, along with most Israelis, believes Jerusalem shouldn’t be divided.
President Obama has treated Netanyahu’s decision to build homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem as an insult to the U.S. but Lapid agrees with the prime minister that cutting up the country’s capital is unthinkable. Since, like Lapid, Netanyahu has reaffirmed his support for a two state solution, there likely will be very little tension on peace issues between the two men in the next government.
Lapid’s rise reflects the way the overwhelming majority of Israelis have moved on from their prior obsession with the peace process. Since the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected peace and used Israeli withdrawals to create terror enclaves like Gaza, there is a consensus that until a sea change occurs among Arabs, more such concessions are unthinkable. Lapid and Netanyahu may have their disagreements over the economic issues that helped propel Yesh Atid to second place in the vote. But they appear willing to work together along with Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home Party (which is to the right of the Likud on peace issues) to craft new legislation that would end the ultra-Orthodox draft exemptions that anger the rest of the country.
The next Israeli government may not be as stable as its predecessor due to the outsized personalities and egos of its predecessor. But as Lapid’s statement indicates, any American expectation that Yesh Atid will change Netanyahu’s negotiating position has no basis in fact.