Jonathan S. Tobin – Stop denying the Israeli consensus on the Palestinians
Yair Lapid is the current favorite to become prime minister when the Israeli people go to the polls to elect a new Knesset. But whether or not the former television star — who leads the centrist Yesh Atid Party — winds up succeeding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he has already done something that ought to influence international opinion about the Middle East conflict. The only question is whether those determined to impose their will on the Jewish state will listen.
Last month, Lapid made it clear that his effort to unseat Netanyahu will be conducted on a platform that will be remarkably similar to that of the prime minister. As Haaretz reported, Lapid said that any negotiations with the Palestinians would need to be conducted “in very slow stages.” How slow a process does Lapid envision? His answer was that it will take “15-20 years,” and that “the main element of [the process will be] security arrangements.”
Why would he move so slow when so many of his country’s critics, as well as its left-wing political parties and former generals who are Netanyahu critics, claim that it is a matter of urgency to withdraw from the West Bank as soon as possible? Lapid’s answer is succinct: “I don’t believe the Palestinians.”
His stance is also similar to that of the current titular head of the opposition bloc in the current Knesset — Isaac Herzog, the leader of the Zionist Union Party. Herzog issued his own peace plan in February, in which he asserted that peace would have to wait until at least 10 years passed, during which time the Palestinians would need to completely refrain from anti-Israel terrorism.
This means that both the current head of the opposition to Netanyahu, and the man who has the best chance to beat him, largely agree with the prime minister on the one issue where Israel’s critics are most desirous of a policy change.
Rather than advocate a surrender of the disputed territories in order to create a Palestinian state as soon as possible, all three leaders agree that peace is nowhere in sight. Their reason is that Palestinian intentions toward Israel are so nefarious that all Israel would be doing is attempting to trade land for terror, rather than the peace that it seeks. In a remarkable demonstration of broad consensus, Netanyahu, Herzog and Lapid all understand that until a sea change occurs within the Palestinian political culture that will render peace acceptable to them, Israel has no alternative but to hold its ground.
This destroys the notion that the Israeli public is split down the middle on the peace process. Perhaps there was a division — but that ended when Palestinian terror blew up the Oslo agreements, and as the carnage of the Second Intifada convinced most Israelis that their high hopes for obtaining peace had been misplaced. Since then, the Israeli left has been marginalized.
It’s possible that Lapid is attempting to deceive the Israeli public, and would behave differently if he was elected. Lapid’s chief foreign policy advisers are left-wingers, and may believe that their candidate is only saying what he must in order to get elected. But even if that is true, Lapid’s determination not to let himself be portrayed as soft is significant, because it shows that he understands that winning an Israeli election will require a realistic stance on peace.
Israel’s critics should pay attention to what Lapid is saying, because it demonstrates that there is a consensus about peace and territorial withdrawal. Those who ignore this consensus are seeking to overthrow the verdict of democracy, and forgetting that the Israeli electorate has a much firmer grasp of the Jewish state’s security situation than the foreign kibitzers who want peace now.
Jonathan S. Tobin is opinion editor of JNS.org and a contributing writer to National Review. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.