What is the future for peace after Israel’s elections?

Will Israel’s new “king-maker” make or break the two-state solution?

What will the rise of Yair Lapid mean for a two-state solution?
Nick Gray
On 24 January 2013 10:38

In a busy week which included a US presidential inauguration and a major speech on Britain and the EU – not to mention the snow – Israel’s elections for the next Knesset seem to have slipped under the main media outlets’ radars.

While the extent of American involvement in the Middle East for the next four years is yet to be declared and rumblings of a possible EU peace plan to be imposed on the protagonists abound, the make-up of the new Knesset is in fact vital for any progress or otherwise towards the ever-elusive two-state solution for peace.

It is ironic that the surprise new second party in Israeli politics and therefore prime partner for Bibi Netanyahu in his new coalition translates as “There Is a Future”. After two years of stalled peace negotiations with the Palestinians, will this untried upstart party (“Yesh Atid” in Hebrew) support or destroy any renewed efforts towards a two-state solution that might arise?

Up until two days ago, the general expectation was that Israel would lurch further to the right, with the PA, the EU and America all fearing stronger resistance to renewed negotiations and further settlement construction in the West Bank. Yair Lapid, son of politician father Tommy Lapid and head of Yesh Atid, has surprised everyone by overtaking even Nafthali Bennett’s Jewish home party to end up second in size in the Knesset to a weakened Likud. This is likely to lead to a brake on further right-ward movement by the next ruling coalition.

Domestically, we are likely to see several centrist measures coming into force, including measures to make the Ultra-Orthodox liable for Army service. The Israeli far-right would not have the power they have had in the past with the more centrist Yesh Atid in government.

But what are the known leanings of this new party, leaping into government at its first ever election, when it comes to the broken down peace process?

Yesh Atid’s manifesto for the election campaign pledged that, “...Israel will strive to return to the negotiations table with the Palestinians...”  . So far, so good – but mitigated by Lapid’s campaign launch speech taking place symbolically in the major settlement of Ariel. Yesh Atid’s platform also states that it expects the larger settlement blocs will remain part of Israel proper. This, however, is within the accepted expectations for any future final status agreement.

Where Lapid and his party depart from the “normal” two-state idea is on Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a red line issue for both the PA and Israel; the PA wants East Jerusalem for the capital of a future Palestine, while one of Israel’s basic laws is that the city is Israel’s “eternal capital” and will never be divided. Lapid is firmly on the Israeli right on this issue and will not only refuse to divide the city but wants to grant Israeli citizenship to East Jerusalem’s Arab population (something around 10,000 of them already have).

Predicting the exact shape of the new ruling coalition in Israel is, as always, a fruitless exercise since there are still weeks of bargaining and negotiating for Prime Minister Netanyahu as he tries to cobble together parties and leaders with disparate priorities and platforms.

Yair Lapid’s presence in the new government may ensure that future peace proposals get at least a hearing from Israel and could even lead to renewed negotiations. His refusal to divide Jerusalem, however, would swiftly lead to any talks stalling, especially if he succeeds in his intention to make the inhabitants of a future Palestinian capital Israeli citizens – that would go down like a lead balloon in Ramallah.

The stunning rise of Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid may well have stopped a further move to the right by Israel’s next coalition, but it may turn out that the man himself is not as centrist as some would like.

The result? Almost certainly further blockages to the two-state solution most Israelis want but which few believe will happen anymore. Plus ca change?

Nick Gray blogs at cmewonline.com and tweets at @cmew2

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