Lapid: Yesh Atid party will topple gov’t that attempts annexation

HERZLIYA, Israel (JTA) — Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid said his centrist Yesh Atid party will topple Israel’s governing coalition should it move to annex any Israeli West Bank settlements.

Lapid’s declaration came at the beginning of a barb-filled session at the annual Herzliya Conference, an Israeli policy conference hosted by the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, an Israeli university. At the session, officials from five Israeli political parties set out their respective approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, criticizing each other in the process.

Lapid, who has been an increasingly vocal advocate of a two-state solution since being elected last year, proposed presenting a detailed map of proposed Israeli borders, freezing the expansion of isolated settlements and negotiating with the Palestinian Authority over an Israeli withdrawal to the proposed borders.

“We want to apply the principle of two states and separate from the Palestinians,” Lapid said. “The time has come for Israel to decide what its borders are.”

Lapid, a one-time ally of Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, called Bennett’s proposal to annex Israeli-controlled areas in the West Bank “delusional.”

“Annexation will lead us to a tragedy called a binational state,” Lapid said. “If there will be an attempt to unilaterally annex even one settlement, Yesh Atid will not only leave the government but topple it.”

Speaking directly after Lapid, Bennett called proposed territorial withdrawals “delusional” and detailed his proposal for Israel to annex much of the West Bank, including all Israeli settlements, while increasing freedom of movement for Palestinians. He decried what he called the “dead end” of attempts to negotiate a peace treaty “that began in Oslo, Norway in 1993.”

“When the land is yours you need to work to keep it,” said Bennett, chairman of the Religious Zionist Jewish Home party. “After the ideas of Oslo failed time after time, Israel needs to do what it wants.”

Following Bennett was Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Bennett’s fiercest opponent within the governing coalition. Livni, Israel’s lead negotiator in this year’s collapsed peace talks, suggested that Israel should negotiate with the new Palestinian government even though it is backed by Hamas, the terrorist organization that governs Gaza.

“We need to distinguish between this [Palestinian] government and Hamas,” said Livni, who chairs the Hatnua party. “Test it based on its actions on the ground.”

Knesset opposition leader Isaac Herzog, chairman of the Labor party, called on Lapid and Livni to topple the governing coalition and form a new one with him. He called for a peace process beginning with a freeze on isolated settlements, ending with a two-state solution based in part on Saudi Arabia’s Arab Peace Initiative.

“We’ll build trust that was missing, we’ll freeze [settlement] building and won’t need to free terrorists,” he said. “I would take some of these steps even without negotiations.”

Last to speak was Interior Minister Gideon Saar of the Likud party, who advocated maintaining the status quo absent a more viable option. Saar said that because Palestinians control Gaza and have limited self-rule in the West Bank, Israel does not face a demographic challenge to its Jewish majority.

“There’s no basis for the belief that the status quo is worse than the alternatives,” he said. “What we’ve learned from experience is that we need to be cautious in taking risks.”

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