Lapid Voices Support for 2-State Solution, Taking a Political Gamble Just Weeks Before Election
‘Lapid’s goal is to gain as many votes as possible for the bloc. By defining himself differently from Gantz, he could increase votes among Arab Israelis and might enable Gantz to gain votes from the right,’ expert says.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid addressed the UN General Assembly on Thursday, where he voiced his support for the two-state solution.
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
“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 said. “Peace is not a compromise. It is the most courageous decision we can make.”
As Israel heads to elections in five weeks, it is unclear whether the incumbent prime minister will be able to form a government. Aligning himself in favor of the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel such a short time before Israelis head to the polls could prove to be a political risk.
The reports on Israeli media about the intention of the caretaker prime minister immediately drew fire from many of his opponents.
For Lapid’s opposition, mainly former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, it was a chance to butt heads. But within his bloc and the coalition he leads, this is also an opportunity for rivals to differentiate themselves from each other.
Lapid leads a coalition, “the change bloc,” that was formed mainly to oust Netanyahu from power after over a decade. It was a rocky coalition that lasted little over a year. His UN speech holds the risk of alienating some of the parties in the anti-Netanyahu bloc, mainly those in the right wing.
Bringing the Palestinian issue to the forefront, Lapid has reminded many Israelis that the conflict can be addressed in different ways.
This is no less than very dramatic. Israel, under Netanyahu, managed to convince the world that a two-state solution was not doable.
“This is no less than very dramatic,” Dr. Alon Liel, a former senior Israeli diplomat, told The Media Line. “Israel, under Netanyahu, managed to convince the world that a two-state solution was not doable.”
Indeed, the main criticism from Netanyahu’s Likud party was for the mere fact that the conflict with the Palestinians was pushed back to the headlines.
“For years, Netanyahu managed to sideline the Palestinian issue from the global agenda,” read a statement by the Likud. “Lapid brought Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] back to the center of the stage in less than a year.”
In the background of Lapid’s speech are weeks of heightened tensions between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Nightly clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants have raised concern that the coming period of Jewish holidays will be marred by violence and unrest.
Lapid reopening the door to an almost forgotten proposal, once a consensus in the international community, could ease some of the tension.
“It gives hope to the Palestinians after a long period,” said Liel.
In the past week, there has been violent infighting between Palestinian factions in West Bank cities, raising concerns in Israel that the Palestinian Authority may be losing its grip on the territories under its control.
Despair can be turned off by hope
“A political horizon could have an immediate effect on the ground, even if we are not close to a peace agreement,” Gayil Talshir, a political scientist from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told The Media Line. “Despair can be turned off by hope, not only by putting boots on the ground in the West Bank.”
Regardless of Lapid’s commitment to the two-state solution, the road to peace between the two peoples is still blocked.
When US President Joe Biden met Abbas in Bethlehem earlier this year, he recognized that “the ground is not ripe” yet for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Indeed, for years, the two-state solution, or any other solution, between Israelis and Palestinians, was not been on the agenda.
The last time the two sides met at the negotiating table was in 2014.
“The majority of Israelis believe that even if Israel were to make more concessions than they personally think is correct, there still would not be a minimal level of peace,” Prof. Jonathan Rynhold, head of the Department of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University, told The Media Line. “All the genuine differences about what Israel should do are trumped by the feeling that there is nothing to do anyway.”
For Lapid, who has been in the Israeli political arena for a decade, making such a statement on an international stage could come with a heavy domestic price.
“Lapid made a decision to say what he believes in and not take his election campaign strategy into consideration,” said Talshir. “It is a bold move and it might also be the only time he will speak at the UN as prime minister.”
Raising the issue after it has been largely dormant will highlight his position in the political arena.
“Such a statement substantially differentiates him from his current coalition partners,” said Liel. “For the left parties, who are largely silent, this is ominous.”
Both Meretz and the Labor party have almost muted their support for the two-state solution in recent campaigns, realizing the unwanted effect it might have on Israeli voters who have continuously leaned to the right in recent years.
“Lapid could endanger both parties and could cause at least one of them to not pass the electoral threshold,” Liel added. “This might result in more mandates for his party but from within the left bloc.”
With the election expected to be determined by a small number of votes, Lapid needs to either transfer votes from the right wing to secure a government led by him or strengthen his bloc by a few mandates.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz is Lapid’s coalition partner but also a contender for the premiership. Gantz believes in containing and managing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without striving for a political settlement.
Gantz has nationalist right-wing elements in his party that would not allow him to make such a statement on a future Palestinian state.
One of the main question marks about the upcoming election is the voter turnout among Arab Israelis and how their vote will be dispersed between three Arab lists. There is a chance that at least one party will not pass the threshold.
With some of the Arab parties championing the Palestinian cause at the top of their agenda, Lapid’s statement could sway some votes in his direction.
“Lapid’s goal is to gain as many votes as possible for the bloc,” Rynhold explained. “By defining himself differently from Gantz, he could increase votes among Arab Israelis and might enable Gantz to gain votes from the right.”
His position on the conflict could come up in future coalition negotiations and lure in some partners but alienate others.
If he doesn’t get scared from the current public reaction, this could be a game-changer
“The danger could be dismantling the anti-Netanyahu bloc,” said Talshir. “He could have continued with statements of conflict containment like Gantz but his choice to do otherwise could prove to be a mistake politically by making Gantz more attractive to several elements in the right wing.”
By the time Israelis head to the polls on November 1, Lapid may change his position.
“If he doesn’t get scared from the current public reaction,” said Liel, “this could be a game-changer.”