Right-wing opposition figures on Thursday railed at Prime Minister Yair Lapid for endorsing a two-state solution in his address to the UN General Assembly, as the premier’s left-wing allies cheered his call for peace with the Palestinians.
Even as Lapid was still speaking, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu released a video statement accusing him of “endangering” Israel’s future by renewing discussion of Palestinian statehood.
“Lapid is bringing the Palestinians back to the forefront of the world stage and putting Israel right into the Palestinian pit,” he said.
In recent years, Israeli leaders have largely distanced themselves from Palestinian statehood, even though Netanyahu himself called for a two-state solution at the UN in 2016.
Netanyahu has moved away from that line in recent years and now takes credit for having “removed Palestinian statehood from the global agenda.”
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Netanyahu’s comments come just 38 days from Israel’s November 1 election, after which he hopes to have the numbers to cobble together a right-religious government.
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu criticizes Prime Minister Yair Lapid for endorsing the two-state solution at the UN General Assembly, in a video statement released on September 22, 2022. (Twitter screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
His religious Zionist partners, as well as many members of his right-wing Likud party, are staunchly pro-settlement and against relinquishing Israel’s claim on territories for an independent Palestinian state.
The Likud chief said that a Palestinian state would be a security threat, charging that Lapid “is going to give them a terrorist state in the heart of the country, a state that will threaten us all.”
Netanyahu also hit out at Lapid over his efforts to prevent a renewed Iran nuclear deal, claiming the prime minister “is doing nothing.”
Likud No. 2 Yariv Levin charged that Lapid “surrendered… to the terror supporters from the Palestinian Authority.”
“Instead of standing in front of the world and saying wholeheartedly that the Land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel, Lapid ingratiated himself to Israel haters,” said Levin, a former Knesset speaker.
MK Bezalel Smotrich, who heads the far-right Religious Zionism party, also slammed Lapid’s backing for a two-state solution, saying that a Palestinian state is a “shameful surrender to terrorism.”
Smotrich said that Lapid is “striving for the division of the land, the handing over of territories and the expulsion of tens of thousands of Jews from their homes.”
He also charged that discussion of a Palestinian state and the “instilling hope in the sails of Palestinian nationalism” will lead to increased terror attacks against Israeli citizens.
“We will find ourselves again with buses exploding and terror all over the country,” Smotrich warned.
Religious Zionism MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks to the press in Ramat Gan, August 23, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Opposition MK Sami Abu Shehadeh of the Arab nationalist Balad party suggested Lapid’s call at the UN for a two-state solution was all talk.
“There are just so many questions that Lapid should answer, but he won’t say much about it. Instead, he’ll act on the ground to show his commitment to Jewish supremacy and the denial of equality, freedom and security for the Palestinian people,” the Balad head tweeted Thursday.
Lapid also took heat from some right-wing coalition figures, with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked saying he was wrong when he told the UN General Assembly that most Israelis support a two-state solution.
“Most Israelis oppose a Palestinian state,” she insisted to Channel 13 news.
Shaked, a member of the outgoing government who has since repented her decision to join the coalition while remaining in her post, argued that Lapid’s comments on Israel conditioning statehood on the Palestinian state being peaceful “explains why it does not work.”
She also said her decision to criticize the premier, in English, over the speech earlier Thursday was “legitimate” because the parties had agreed in coalition talks that a two-state solution wouldn’t be on the table.
Other right-wing allies of Lapid, including Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, criticized the premier on Wednesday after an official said he was due to back the two-state solution in his UN speech.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid, right, with Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on September 18, 2022. (Olivier Fitousi/Flash90)
Among Lapid’s political partners who back a two-state solution, the head of the left-wing Meretz party hailed his speech as “historic.”
“Finally, the vision of peace is on the agenda,” Zahava Galon wrote on Twitter. “To put an end to the cycle of bloodshed, to end control over millions of Palestinians, and to years of pain and bereavement on both sides.”
Public Security Minister Omer Barlev of the center-left Labor party called Lapid’s speech “moving and impressive.”
“A great honor for the State of Israel, which was properly represented by the prime minister while standing firm for [Israel’s] security and diplomatic interests,” Barlev tweeted.
Lapid’s address also earned plaudits from US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides, who called it “courageous.”
“Peaceful coexistence is only way forward. As POTUS urged here in July, ‘two peoples, with deep & ancient roots in this land, living side by side in peace and security,’” Nides tweeted, referring to comments US President Joe Biden made while visiting Israel and the West Bank.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.