Analysts Weigh In on Lapid’s ‘Refreshing’ and ‘Strong’ UN Speech
Israel's Prime Minister Yair Lapid addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York City on Sept. 22, 2022. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images)

Analysts Weigh In on Lapid’s ‘Refreshing’ and ‘Strong’ UN Speech

Political and diplomatic consequences abound, both domestically and overseas, as a result of the Israeli prime minister's positions on the peace process and Iran in his General Assembly address

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid placed the concept of a two-state solution back into the conversation after many involved with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process lamented the timing for serious discussions wasn’t ripe.

“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. Peace is not a compromise. It is the most courageous decision we can make,” said Lapid on Thursday at the United Nations General Assembly.

While US officials, including President Joe Biden and Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, reacted positively to Lapid’s speech, some analysts say the premier’s sentiment was only partly a nod to American administration priorities.

“I thought it was refreshing to see an Israeli prime minister firmly put Israeli policy in line with what US policy is, and particularly the recognition that two states is not a favor to anybody else, but it’s in Israel’s interests,” Michael Koplow, chief policy officer of Israel Policy Forum, told The Media Line.

“I’m certain it’s what he believes. And I’m also sure that he thinks it will help Israel within the region, whether it means bringing Saudi Arabia a bit closer to normalization, or making it easier for other countries to get on board.”

With Lapid’s speech coming in the middle of an Israeli election campaign, most commentators couldn’t help but place it through a domestic political prism.

“I don’t think it gives him much political benefit in the campaign. I think it’s likely the opposite, which I think lends credence even more to the fact that he’s saying it because he truly believes it,” said Koplow.

Most polls show Lapid failing to coalesce a coalition with the required majority of 61 seats in the Knesset to garner another mandate, though very few polls have predicted Lapid’s nemesis, Opposition Leader Binyamin Netanyahu, doing so, either.

Lapid’s two-state rhetoric, combined with his nod to Israeli Arabs in his General Assembly speech, may be looked at as his way of expanding his potential coalition base to include additional Arab parties beyond current coalition member Ra’am.

“In the government which I lead, there are Arab ministers. There is an Arab party as a member of our coalition. We have Arab judges in our Supreme Court. Arab doctors saving lives in our hospitals,” said Lapid. “Israeli Arabs are not our enemies. They are our partners in life.”

Still, opening up avenues utilizing the left may push away critical seats on the right in another potential unity government. Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Lapid’s partner in the outgoing government, was heavily critical of Lapid’s announcement.

“We already saw in the last couple of days members of the outgoing government criticize Lapid for his stance on two states. We saw it from Gideon Saar, who sits with Benny Gantz in the National Unity party. We saw it from Ayelet Shaked, which perhaps is a bit less surprising,” said Koplow. “Lapid definitely has a right-wing flank of people, most of whom at the moment are in the National Unity Party, who he also needs to have in his coalition, who are very firmly opposed to two states.”

As expected, outside of the Palestinian issue, Lapid focused a significant portion of his speech on Iran and its nuclear program.

“The only way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon is to put a credible military threat on the table. And then – and only then – to negotiate a longer and stronger deal with them,” said Lapid. “It needs to be made clear to Iran that if it advances its nuclear program, the world will not respond with words, but with military force.”

The Israeli premier also brought up Iran’s human rights violations and violence toward opponents domestically and abroad.

“Iran’s regime hates Jews, hates women, hates gay people, hates the West. They hate and kill Muslims who think differently, like Salman Rushdie and Mahsa Amini,” said Lapid, who chided the global community for its inaction on the Islamic Republic.

“Iran has declared time and time again that it is interested in the ‘total destruction’ of the State of Israel. And this building is silent. What are you afraid of?” Lapid asked.

“Lapid’s remarks on Iran were properly strong,” Michael Makovsky, president and CEO of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), told The Media Line. “But he can have more impact if he capitalizes on his center-left credentials and reiterates those comments in the left-wing American media, such as MSNBC, NPR, New York Times, ABC, etc., and to Democratic members of Congress.”

That in itself carries its own potential pitfalls. Former Prime Minister Netanyahu put himself at odds with the Democratic Party by launching a public campaign against then-President Barack Obama’s pursuit of a nuclear accord with Iran. Makovsky says Lapid can apply pressure without inflicting damage.

“Lapid can press politely. I know this has become a political issue in Israel, and Lapid, like most leaders, is keen to distinguish himself from a predecessor, but there’s a wide gap between Bennett and Lapid’s approach and that of Netanyahu,” said Makovsky. “The right policy, not politics, should determine the course of action.”

Many of the speeches and sideline activities at the General Assembly this week revolved around Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Lapid, who has been by far the most vocal critic within the Israeli government of Russia’s actions, stayed away from the topic altogether during his time at the podium.

“It’s obviously not a core Israeli issue. The Israelis kind of need to dance around it, given Russia’s presence in Syria. It’s not something Lapid wants to go out of his way to highlight,” said Koplow. “I think he did that when he had to out of necessity. In this case, given the time allotted and given the fact that I don’t think he wanted to cause any problems with the Russians, it makes sense to me that he would leave it out.”

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