“This is a conference about economic and social matters, so I have decided to talk today about the issue that has the most decisive influence on Israel’s economy and on Israeli society, and that is the diplomatic process,” Minister of Finance Yair Lapid said at the start of his speech to the 2013 Globes Israel Business Conference yesterday.
“I have chosen to speak about this because I am determined to prevent what seems like a continual attempt to undermine and hinder the diplomatic process currently underway with the Palestinians,” Lapid continued, “If both left and right in Israel continue saying time and again ‘Nothing will come of this’, that is liable to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the sides will leave the negotiating table amid mutual recriminations. This is the easy way out, and many people on both sides will rejoice if it happens, but I will do everything, anything, to prevent the negotiations from failing. I won’t let anyone undermine the diplomatic process.
“Only a few months remain until the deadline set for concluding the negotiations. The delay and foot-dragging are mostly on the Palestinian side, and we are not responsible for that side. We are responsible for the Israeli side, and we must make every effort to reach a settlement, because the present situation endangers the future if the State of Israel. It endangers us because the State of Israel cannot, and must not, absorb 3.5 million Palestinians. If we want to live in a Jewish state, we must part from them.”
Lapid went on to mention the risk of violence if no agreement is reached, saying that an agreed border would easier to defend than territory in which Israelis and Palestinians live together, and also the risk to political and economic relationships with the US and the rest of the world. He also said that failure to make progress in the negotiations threatened the stability of the government.
“Now is the time to move up a gear,” Lapid added. “We have reached the stage at which the Israeli government must answer for itself the question whether it is conducting negotiations in a genuine attempt to reach a peace agreement, because the real problem is not that it’s impossible to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. The real problem we have to deal with is that it certainly is possible. It’s hard, it’s heart-wrenching, it means concessions, but it’s possible.
“We cannot continue to evade the fact that peace has a price, a painful price, involving our sense of nationality, a difficult political price that everyone who signs the agreement will pay. The prime minister has declared that he recognizes this price and the significance of the fact that the only solution on the table is implementation of the principle of two states for two peoples. I believe and hope that he has the historic courage required to pay the price. That is what he committed himself to when we formed the government, that is what he said on the day the government was sworn in, from the Knesset podium, and I don’t imagine for a moment that he did not mean every word. Our task today is to turn this declaration into a coherent plan of action and to stand behind it despite all the difficulties.
“When the government was formed, I assured the prime minister that if he chose to take the path of negotiations, Yesh Atid would stand behind him and enable him to set out on this journey. I want to reiterate that commitment here. My aim is not to weaken the coalition or to present an ultimatum but, on the contrary, to make it clear that the five ministers and 19 members of Knesset of Yesh Atid are a solid coalition foundation that allows, and will allow, the negotiations to proceed.”
Lapid stressed that the Palestinians too would be called upon to make painful sacrifices. “On at least two occasions in the past, Israel made far reaching proposals to the Palestinians, and they evaded their responsibility and would not sign an agreement,” he said, “They cannot complain today about the deep distrust that the Israeli public feels towards them. I have no illusions about the Palestinians, but precisely because of that we need to separate from them. We aren’t looking for a marriage but for a divorce. And they know by now that not all their dreams will be fulfilled. Not at our expense.
“As leader of the second largest political party, I have no moral right to stand on the sidelines. Every minute in which there is no agreement between us and the Palestinians represents a clear danger to the State of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. Every day that passes without an agreement brings us closer to the danger of a bi-national state, which an unholy alliance of the extreme right and the extreme left is trying to push us towards, each for its own messianic reasons. In such a state, millions of Palestinians will demand the right to vote for the Israeli Knesset. The possibilities we face are to refuse, and to cease being a democracy, or to agree, and to extinguish the Zionist idea with our own hands. Both possibilities are bad; both must be prevented.
“The State of Israel should not rule over another people. This is contrary to Jewish morality, contrary to the very idea of building an exemplary society. As minister of finance, I must also make clear to the Israeli people the economic consequences that failure of the negotiations will have. The Ministry of Finance research department has examined various scenarios for the consequences of a breakdown in the talks for the Israeli economy and the economic position of every Israeli citizen. I won’t go into details now about the sanctions that Israel is liable to face, because I don’t want to give ideas to Israel’s enemies, but the results are liable to be ruinous for the personal finances of every Israeli citizen.
“The negotiations are not an end but a means. Our task is to make progress in the negotiations, and not use them to avoid tough decisions. The great Israeli tragedy is that we all know how it will end: one state on one side, another state on the other. The only thing we don’t know is how much time will pass until it happens and how much blood will be spilled. Therefore that is our task, as a responsible leadership and a responsible government, to ensure that as little time as possible passes, and that as little blood as possible is spilled. People talk about the dream of peace. Peace is not a dream. Peace is the only practical option that will ensure us a life in Jewish state, with defined borders, one that the nations of the world will respect, and whose children will grow up knowing that we, their parents, did our utmost to secure their future and their safety.”