On peace, Yair Lapid takes the gloves off

Where does Yair Lapid stand on the peace process?

Since his centrist Yesh Atid Party won a surprising 19 seats in January’s elections, that’s the question everyone’s been asking about Israel’s finance minister.

We know he wants to integrate Israel’s haredim and draft them into the army. We know he wants to lower housing costs. We know he wants to institute civil unions.

But will he push for a Palestinian state? Does he really care?

Now we know the answer to that question, too. And it’s a resounding “yes.”

In the past, Lapid had sent mixed signals. He called for a two-state solution but launched his campaign in Ariel, the northern West Bank city whose evacuation Palestinians have demanded. He said he would join a coalition government only if it entered peace negotiations, but then came into the coalition in an alliance with Jewish Home, a pro-settler party that considers a Palestinian state anathema.

And he has focused his legislative work thus far on Israel’s budget, draft reform and religious pluralism.

In a speech on Sunday, though, he sounded like the director of Peace Now. The peace process “has the most decisive influence on the Israeli economy and Israeli society,” he said. “I will do everything — everything! — to prevent the failure of the negotiations. I will not let anyone dissolve the diplomatic process.”

Then, in case he wasn’t clear enough, he dropped the bombshell: The government needs to keep the peace process going, he said, “even if advancing negotiations means coalition changes of one kind or another.”

In other words: Jewish Home, get with the peace process — or get out.

Lapid isn’t alone among coalition partners in (implicitly) calling for his former ally’s ouster. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who founded her Hatnua Party to advance a two-state solution, has explicitly called on the Labor Party to replace Jewish Home in the governing coalition.

Lapid’s speech, though, is just the latest hit to the Yesh Atid-Jewish Home bond. Sticking to its modern Orthodox guns, Jewish Home has vetoed, or is expected to veto, several Yesh Atid religious pluralism bills — its right as a coalition partner. These include Yesh Atid’s signature proposal for civil unions.

And a recent poll from the left-wing Molad think tank showed that a majority of Yesh Atid’s voters disagree with Jewish Home on a number of issues — the peace process among them.

The results of Labor’s recent party primary also may have pushed Lapid toward pushing for a coalition change. Recently ousted Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich had downplayed the importance of the peace process and presented herself as a fighter for economic equity. Newly elected Labor leader Isaac Herzog, though, seems to prioritize diplomatic issues over economic policy — and received warm congratulations from Lapid, via Facebook, on his win.

Israeli peaceniks might do well, though, not to hold their breath. Three of Israel’s biggest papers — Israel Hayom, Yediot Aharonot and Maariv — all devoted their Monday editorials to Lapid’s speech. But all of them were skeptical that Lapid’s words, however assertive, would lead to a change in the coalition.

As for Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, he wasted no time shooting back at Lapid from the pages of Yediot. “We need to slash prices, not settlements,” he said. “I suggest that we focus on what we came to fix, instead of on talking.”

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