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Lapid and Netanyahu aren't the problem, their voters are

In an interview with the ‘New York Times,’ Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid rejects the idea of a settlement freeze or compromise on Jerusalem, instead offering an updated version of the Oslo Accord as an interim solution.

Yair Lapid. The Israeli public feels that the status quo represent the preferable alternative on the Palestinian issue (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org)

Yair Lapid, the surprising star of the last elections and Israel’s current finance minister, gave an interview to the The New York Times in which he left only “a little daylight” between himself to Prime Minister Netanyahu on the Palestinian issue, as the Times’s Jodi Rudoren put it.

That was clearly an understatement. Except for paying lip service to the need to create a Palestinian state – now a precondition for every policy speech by a mainstream Israeli leader, intended to prevent accusations of Apartheid – Lapid didn’t even try to hide his rejectionism. He told Rudoren that a final status agreement with Mahmoud Abbas is probably impossible; he said that Israel “should not change its policy on Israeli settlements in the West Bank,” and he objected to territorial compromises on Jerusalem, as he has done in the past.

When it came to talking about what should be done, rather than what shouldn’t, Lapid had the following idea:

Mr. Lapid acknowledged that tens of thousands of Jews would someday be uprooted from what he described as “remote settlements” in the West Bank, something he called “heartbreaking.” But he said that problem should be set aside for now, advocating the immediate creation of an interim Palestinian state in parts of the West Bank where no Jews live, with final borders drawn in perhaps three, four or five years.

Lapid failed to offer a catchy name for his plan. I suggest the “Oslo Accords.”


A favorite pastime among observers of Israeli politics and ‘The Conflict’ is searching for a new leader of the peace camp – someone who will finally end this foolishness with the settlements and lead the army out of the West Bank. Some thought that he or she would come from the Left, carrying with them the democratic traditions and pragmatic determination of the founding fathers. Others say it should be a centrist, or even better, a hawk-turned-dove, a general, an expansionist or a former-settler who, after decades of war, chose to live with the enemy rather than continue fighting him.

Lapid appeared to be somewhat of a hybrid – not exactly a lefty, certainly not a general, but popular enough with the Israeli mainstream. To top it off, he’s pragmatic and handsome. A new leader for a new age. In order to believe that he will end the occupation, one needs to engage in willful suspension of disbelief, to not listen to anything Lapid actually says and avoid reading his platform. But in a difficult moment, this is a small price to pay for the cause.

That illusion didn’t last very long though. After forbidding his party members from taking an educational tour of East Jerusalem, forming a political pact with the settlers, keeping intact tax breaks and other benefits for Jews who move to the West Bank, avoiding meeting any Palestinians and rejecting the notion of a final status agreement and even a settlement freeze – one needs to go very far out on a limb in order to still hold out hope that Lapid, or this government for that matter, will advance the cause of peace.


I don’t buy the new storyline about Lapid’s fall from grace. It’s no less absurd than “Lapid the peacemaker” or “Lapid the guardian of democracy.” Lapid is an excellent communicator with a good sense of the Israeli consensus and he has the rare ability to set and manipulate the national agenda. He is surrounded by powerful and experienced people and he is learning from his mistakes. Recent polls confirm that Lapid’s supporters are not leaving him just yet; Israeli politics are very forgiving, and Lapid has just begun his journey.

Still, even if Lapid’s descent is as fast as his astonishing rise was, I don’t think that we should hold our hopes for his successor. Contrary to popular belief, the problem at the heart of the occupation is not Israeli politicians or Israeli leaders: it’s the Israeli people. The public simply doesn’t want to deal with the Palestinian issue in any meaningful way. It doesn’t really matter what the Palestinians, Americans or Europeans do to appease Israel. There is an almost instinctive, little-spoken understanding that both alternatives – both one-state and two-state solution – are inferior to the status quo. Talks regarding the “unsustainability” of current trends seem very abstract. So far, the occupation seems to be the most sustainable thing this country has known.

Politicians understand this, and those who don’t lose elections (see: Livni). Lapid certainly understands. There is at least one demonstration every weekend outside his home over his new tax code and austerity measures. I don’t think he is about to see a single protester beneath his window over the NY Times interview, nor would his numbers drop.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and EU High Representative Cathrine Ashton can spend countless more hours in Jerusalem and burn many more miles between capitals; the problem they are facing is not Lapid or Netanyahu – not even Lieberman – but Israeli voters. Even if talks resume, they are bound to be meaningless (that’s why the Palestinians refuse them). Israelis will consider ending the occupation only when the current trend becomes less attractive. Until then, their leaders will offer negotiations for the sake of negotiations or repackage the status quo as “an interim solution.” It’s simply what their constituents want.

Will Europe take a leading role on Israel/Palestine?
Direct negotiations: Recipe for prolonging the occupation

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    1. XYZ

      Noam says:
      The problem at the heart of the occupation is not Israeli politicians or Israeli leaders: it’s the Israeli people
      Thank you Noam, for this unadulterated express of the “progressives” view of their fellow citizens. They are all stupid. You certainly would agree with all the arguments made in the 19th opposing granting the vote to the masses…they said the same thing….most people are stupid, we are the only ones capable of ruling. Lenin, Stalin and the other Bolsheviks also made sure to set up a totalitarian dictatorship to prevent those who didn’t think like them from attaining power.
      In the post-Civil War South, when blacks were granted the vote, the whites came up with original ideas like imposing a poll tax or literacy tests to prevent “unqualified”, stupid people (i.e. the newly enfranchised blacks) from voting. You are in good company, as you wait for a deus ex machina (some miraculous outside power) to impose what you want.

      Reply to Comment
        • XYZ

          Noam, now you are saying something else entirely. I actually have great respect for you because you seem to be more open minded than a lot of your fellow “progressives” and you allow those who disagree with you to express themselves, but your comment that I quoted can not but be interpreted any other way than what I stated and it certainly reflects what I see in other writings by those who agree with you.

          Reply to Comment
          • Look – I am obviously at a minority in Israel, and I obviously think that I am right and the majority is wrong (otherwise I would have converted). You can spin it and say it’s patronizing. I don’t think so. What I tried to say is that it’s not the leaders who are not open to concessions right now, it’s the people. Since what you read is kind of different, I can only blame myself (:

            Reply to Comment
          • Henry Weinstein

            Let say “the problem” is reality, for the intellectuals.

            Reply to Comment
          • The majority of Americans initially thought the invasion of Iraq a good thing. By 06 that had changed. So which one of “the people” here is “stupid?” One can be opposed to a present majority on principle and analysis, not on their relative intellignece.

            Reply to Comment
          • Igor

            This is exactly Noam’s point – the difference between the 1st and the 2nd “people” is measured in the number of American soldiers’ corpses flowing in from Iraq (cynical as it may sound).

            Reply to Comment
      • Aaron Gross

        XYZ, I don’t see how you could have read this article that way. It was not at all condescending. Noam is one of the very few at +972 who actually respects people with whom he disagrees.

        And Noam, no, you shouldn’t blame yourself for that misreading. Your article was completely clear, and quite true as well. Israeli politicians very closely represent the will of the people. By the way, this fact seems very hard for Americans to understand, because American politicians are much less representative, much less in touch with the electorate.

        Noam, keep up the good work.

        Reply to Comment
      • David T.

        XYZ: “You certainly would agree with all the arguments made in the 19th opposing granting the vote to the masses.”

        As you do in the case of the Zionist colonialization of Palestine or its partition?

        Reply to Comment
      • tod

        XYZ, you make confusion between stupid and selfish/opportunistic/short sighted. The article of Noam is, as usual, pretty clear.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Lawrence Rosenwald

      Entirely right as regards an important and underappreciated point, namely, that the status quo is both more sustainable than some people make it out to be, and more attractive to Jewish Israelis.
      Noam notes, “Israelis will consider ending the occupation only when the current trend becomes less attractive.” The question is, what if anything could make that happen? Pressure from the EU? I’d bet against that. BDS? I’d bet against that too, though there might be more power in that than there seems to be. I heard a recent talk by Rashik Khalidi in which he argued that substantial changes in Arab countries, changes that would make them more responsible to popular will, might change things. Other possibilities?

      Reply to Comment
      • Eliza

        Firstly, agree with the main thrust – that the status quo is the most comfortable position for most Jewish Israelis. Israeli policy that seeks resolution of the conflict will only come about when there is more pain in maintaining the status quo then there will be in changing. There is nothing unusual in this – people do not easily give up power and privilege; nor do they easily give up or question their creation narratives which invariably bang on about how great they are compared to those they have displaced etc. In this respect, Israel is no different from any other modern State.

        What will bring about the needed change within Israel? I would agree that nothing by itself; not BDS, EU trade restrictions, Arab governments more responsive to their people, even downsizing US aid (financial and diplomatic) alone will probably not do it. But all of these things will do their bit to chip away at Israeli complacency.

        The boycott against apartheid SA did not bring the SA economy to ruin – it was effective before that happened. A good part of its effectiveness was that it was evidence to the black population that even if most Western governments would not (or could not) actively force the SA regime to change, many people within Western states stood with them. They were not alone or forgotten. As I recall, some commented that the most powerful effect of the boycott movement was the hope it gave to the black South Africans rather than any negative economic impact.

        What will definitely not bring about a just resolution of the conflict is effects by those Israelis who value and seek equity and human rights for both Jew and non-Jew, whether by way of a one or two state solution. There is just too much stacked against them.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Seth Morrison

      I fear that Noam is right, although I would add that significant pressure from the US president would cut through the complacency. As much as I want it, I am not optimistic.

      Reply to Comment
    4. NIZ

      State is dawla (دولة) in Arabic and its etymology is interesting: seizure and prevailing. It also means exchange, transient, passed along (متداول).
      This means that imbedded in the idea of the state a historical depth that emphasizes seizure and brutality but also its transient nature. Hence, when you say “Dowal” in Arabic meaning states, a historical flow of states crushing each other in the span of time comes to mind.

      We also say: دال الدهر dal addaher, meaning the times have flipped from one side to another. Dawla is then one of those cycles of history.

      You have prevailed – as Jews- you have been given a state and with it, control, seizure and brutality. Agression never lasts and states come and go. Our language testifies to that, and we are old enough to conceive of such an idea and to utter it…So, it’s okay, how long can you oppress for?

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        At least as long as Arabs are oppressing others.

        Reply to Comment
    5. NIZ

      Yes, Trespasser…When I met Israelis for the first time, I thought you might be our own karma coming to bite us. I thought of that. The same psychosis, the same fanaticism, emotional sensitivity, neurosis. Yhwh and Allah come from the same psychotic family eventually. You are like our mirror selves, deep in shit and loving it… under the venere of the cultured jew, you’re just like the Arabians of the Gulf…you piss testosterone!

      Reply to Comment
    6. Piotr Berman

      The true problem is not in Israel but in USA. Israel is a small nation embroiled in a conflict, the only moral rule is that there is no morality, do what you can get away with.

      A large nation has to count wider consequences of actions and inactions. A large nation has no reasons for giving in to self pity, paranoia and pettiness. And it has a better plan for the future than finding or replacing a powerful patron.

      Reply to Comment
    7. I fear that the inevitable economic intergration in the occupied Bank must proceed before civil resistence has a sustained bite. The present status quo is not stationary at all, but moving toward One State as applied. I suspect that internal resistence to occupation within Israel will develop as One State approaches; even so, I can envision a generation of tiered citizenship de facto before real resolution begins.

      Reply to Comment
    8. LastFromRishon

      10% duty on all “Made in Israel” production in EU. 20% next year. 40% in two years. The reason for apartheid crumbling in South Africa was economic sanctions. Add here visas for Israelis in Europe. Without export to Europe Israel’s economics is dead.

      Reply to Comment
      • XYZ

        No one else says that economic sanctions were the reason for the end of apartheid. The reason apartheid ended was that the White Establishment decided it was no longer effective and was causing great internal inefficiency, preventing qualified blacks from getting jobs where there were a shortage of skilled workers, plus wasteful duplication of services. With the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, the ANC abandoned its promise to nationalize white-owned property and industry, which gave the moderate whites the ability to sell abolishing the apartheid restrictions to the white electorate.
        I have read numerous articlest that stated that sanctions have NEVER succeeded in getting a country to change its policies. Even landlocked Rhodesia survived sanctions…the white regime was replaced because Apartheid South Africa, their neighbor, decided they wanted to end the war there on their border.

        Reply to Comment
        • Joe

          That is quite a statement to make, xyz. Of course it is difficult to prove a negative, but it is highly unlikely that “no one else says that economic sanctions were the reason for the end of apartheid”.

          In fact, it appears widely to be believed that one of the major factors that tipped over the white establishment was the sports boycott, which offended their very macho culture and image of themselves.


          I’ve not looked, but I’m sure there are many that think the economic boycott had a major impact on the end of apartheid.

          Reply to Comment
    9. jjj

      Noam, you fail to mention the Palestinian rejectionism to Israel. The utmost demand for the return of the refugees voids Israel of its right to exist, and invites its destruction.
      The BDS campaign is a pure embodiment of this idea, all wrapped up in fraudulent notation of Appartheid state.

      Reply to Comment
      • Haifawi

        Why is the right of return voiding Israel’s right to exist? Are they going to bomb the Knesset? Throw me into the sea? Haifa will still be here, and I will still be paying too much and making too little. The roads will still be here. The buildings will still be here. The airport in Lod will still be here.
        Did the ANC void South Africa’s existance? I’m pretty sure it still exists actually.
        No one has a “right” to have a nation that caters to their whims at the expense of others under their control. Afrikaaners thought they had the “right” to a white state. No, they had the right to A state.

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        • Cora

          finee. They are not negating israel’s right to exist. They are demanding that israel cease to exist. Haifa might still be there. You probably will not. Israel will certainly not exist and the people called Israelis will lose their country and likely the place will descend into the hell holes common in the region. Everything else is semantics.

          Reply to Comment
    10. David T.

      jjj: “Noam, you fail to mention the Palestinian rejectionism to Israel. The utmost demand for the return of the refugees voids Israel of its right to exist, and invites its destruction.”

      Where do you mention Israel’s rejection of Palestine not only in the General assembly? Where do you mention that the “return” of Jews voids historic Palestine to exist and “invited” its “destruction”?

      Reply to Comment
    11. directrob

      Noam is voting correctly enough? What is enough to be a good Israeli citizen?

      Reply to Comment
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