Following the freezing of negotiations with the Palestinians and the formation of the Palestinian unity government with the backing of Hamas, Minister of Finance Yair Lapid set out his diplomatic program, which he called "the separation plan", at the Herzliya Conference yesterday evening.
In his opening remarks, Lapid said that a diplomatic settlement was clearly in Israel's interests, and that the Palestinians were exploiting this. "A diplomatic settlement will prevent Israel's international isolation, will improve every citizen's sense of security, will generate an economic boom that will boost our GDP and the standard of living in Israel dramatically, and, above all, will remove the threat of a bi-national state that can only mean the end of Israel's existence as a Jewish state and the elimination of Zionism.
"Even if the current format has failed," Lapid continued, "we must not allow a political vacuum to form, because any vacuum will eventually be filled, and this vacuum will be filled by terror, international isolation, economic damage, and security threats. We must do all we can to return to the negotiating table, to resume close cooperation with the Americans, and to bring moderate Arab states like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, that seek to form an anti-Iran axis with us, into the talks."
Lapid went on to present the main points of his diplomatic plan, based on Israel's two most vital interests: security, and separation.
"History has taught us a gloomy lesson: we can rely solely on ourselves. In order for us to have reliable and durable security arrangements, we must retain the ability to act on the ground to safeguard Israel's citizens. On that matter there is no room for compromise.
"The second thing is that we want to implement the principle of two states, and separate from the Palestinians. We're not looking for a wedding banquet with the Palestinians, but for a divorce agreement. We cannot and should not rule over four million Palestinians who, in another generation, will double their numbers. Israel is a strong country with a strong economy, but unless we separate from the Palestinians, we will lose Israel's Jewish identity and our advantage over the countries of the region," the finance minister said.
Later in his speech, Lapid referred to proposals put forward by other members of the coalition, from the Habayit Hayehudi party, and said the idea of annexation that they supported was extreme and delusional. "People on the extreme right are pushing the country towards delusional ideas of annexation that will lead us to the disaster known as a bi-national state. I don't know if this is a public relations exercise or a genuine intention, but we won't let it happen. If even a single settlement is annexed unilaterally, Yesh Atid will not only leave the government, it will topple the government," Lapid said.
Lapid said Israel should draw up clear borders. "There is no reason to continue evading the need to draw the future borders of the State of Israel," he said, adding, "Israel should come to the next round of negotiations with detailed maps that we will draw up and that will express broad national consensus."
Lapid set out a three-stage plan for withdrawing from territories in the West Bank and reaching agreed borders. Of the areas that Israel would vacate under his plan, Lapid said, "There is no reason to continue erecting settlements in areas where Israel will not remain under any future agreement, or to invest billions in infrastructures that in the end we will hand to the Palestinians as a gift. I prefer to invest the money in improving the lives of Israel's children, not in improving the lives of the Palestinians' children"
Lapid spoke out against the isolated settlements, saying, "These settlements cost us dearly. They have an adverse effect on growth, on GDP, on our economic ties with the world. Apart from the billions that we lose in constructing unnecessary infrastructures, we lose billions more in economic activity that we could devote to reducing taxes, boosting defense, and improving civilian services. Somewhere between Itamar and Yitzhar, the money is buried that could go towards providing smaller classes and better health services, to narrowing the inequality in Israeli society, as well as to Iron Dome systems, Arrow 3 missiles, and to strengthening the IDF."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on June 9, 2014
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