For the first time in years Israel’s leader wants a Palestinian state03 October 2022
News Desk :
Promises of peace are common. Yet Yair Lapid, Israel's prime minister, caused a stir when he told the UN General Assembly on September 22nd that he wanted to make peace with Palestinians based on the "two-state solution".
That plan itself is not new. It has been the basis for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians since the Oslo accords of 1993 and is supported by many governments around the world. It aims to divide the territory currently controlled by Israel into an Israeli state and a Palestinian one.
The previous time an Israeli leader mentioned the two-state solution at the UN was in 2015 when Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister, grudgingly said he still supported it. Few, however, believed Mr Netanyahu was doing anything but currying favour with America's president, Barack Obama, whose administration spent two terms trying to keep the peace process alive. Mr Lapid's predecessor and coalition partner, Naftali Bennett, conspicuously failed even to mention the Palestinians in his UN speech last year.
Mr Lapid has long supported the two-state solution, but he has only been prime minister since June 30th. His speech signals that the pro-peace camp in Israeli politics is not dead. It also reminds Israelis that they cannot forever ignore their country's military occupation in the West Bank and the blockade it and Egypt impose on Gaza. So long as Palestinians are oppressed, Israel will be unsafe.
That said, Mr Lapid will have immense difficulty turning his words into actions. He is facing an election in less than six weeks and he is far behind Mr Netanyahu's bloc in the polls. Even the outgoing coalition Mr Lapid currently leads (and would need to rebuild after the election if he were to stay in power) includes influential members who adamantly oppose the creation of a Palestinian state. Gideon Saar, the justice minister and a key ally, said Mr Lapid's vision would "endanger Israeli's safety" and that "most Israeli people and their representatives will not allow that to happen."
On this second point, he may be right. In his speech Mr Lapid claimed that a large majority of Israelis supported his aims. But recent polling suggests they do not. In a survey carried out by Tel Aviv University in July, only 40% of Israelis supported a two-state solution, while 50% were against it. What Mr Lapid could truthfully have said is that there is even less support for the three alternatives: a single bi-national state in which all inhabitants have equal rights; Israeli annexation of the West Bank and the official subjugation of the Palestinians; or keeping the situation as it is. Palestinians, for their part, are no more keen on the two-state solution than Israelis.
Even if there was the political and public support to revive the Oslo peace process, many observers believe that it is no longer practical to create two states. Even if one excludes Jewish suburbs in east Jerusalem, which would probably be included in the Israeli state, almost half a million Israeli settlers now live in the occupied West Bank. Since it would not be possible to move that many people, many observers think that any future solution would have to be based on what is in many ways already a one-state reality.
Since becoming prime minister, Mr Lapid has not made any attempt to negotiate with the Palestinian leadership. One problem is that he has no one to talk to. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, was elected in 2005 and has since refused to hold presidential elections. Any deal reached with him would lack legitimacy.
Mr Lapid's speech does not seem to have been aimed at foreign powers or at the Palestinians. Rather, his intended audience is probably Israelis thinking about the general election scheduled for November 1st. Since his main rival will be Mr Netanyahu, who leads a bloc of right-wing and religious parties firmly opposed to letting the Palestinians have a state, Mr Lapid is anxious to establish his own party, Yesh Atid, as the best choice for dovish voters. In doing so, he is making the coming election something of a referendum on trying to make peace. Courtesy: The Economist