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Israel-Palestine conflict

Yair Lapid: 'Israel will protect its interests no matter what'

As the world marks 50 years of Israeli occupation in Palestine, Conflict Zone speaks with Yair Lapid in Tel Aviv, a former finance minister who is tipped as a future prime minister. What is his vision for peace?

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Yair Lapid on Conflict Zone

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, in which Israel fought against Egypt, Jordan and Syria and managed to conquer the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights within less than a week, thereby tripling its territory.

On paper, it was the shortest war in Israel's history, which only lasted for six days. But in reality, the effects are still felt today, 50 years later, as the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is still ongoing and violent clashes between both sides often escalate. 

In an interview with Conflict Zone, Israeli politician Yair Lapid said that Israel is not to blame for these escalations. 

"We are not the aggressor in Gaza," he said.

"We have done in Gaza whatever the world has asked us to do. We left, we dismantled the settlements. The army left."

Is Israel doing enough to promote the rights of Arabs?

According to the latest human rights report from the United States Department of State, there was still institutional and societal discrimination in Israel against its Arab citizens in 2016.

But in the interview, Lapid denied that Israel is discriminating against its Arab citizens. 

"I don't think we don't have equality in this country," he said.

"We are the only country in the Middle East that did anything to promote the democratic rights of Arab citizens."

He argued that "calling Israel a discriminatory country is a smear" and stated that "Israel is the one who is being treated in an unfair way."

Calling for separation

Lapid strongly defended his standpoint of putting the Jewish population's security first.

"Are we not allowed to protect the life of our children? Is this something only the other side has the right to?" asked the head of the centrist Yesh Atid party.

He claimed Palestinians are "using, or misusing, all the rights they have been given in order to promote terror" and stressed that the Jewish people are scared and that "people feel that we've tried everything."

Therefore, Lapid said Israel has to separate from the Palestinians and build "the highest wall possible between the two people."

He further elaborated on his peace plan, which is based on regional cooperation and negotiations with moderate Sunni states in order to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel, in what is known as the "two-state solution."

Settlements part of two-state solution

Lapid, who is tipped by many as the future prime minister, also said that any future peace agreement would have to include the big blocks of settlements around Jerusalem and in Ariel and that Israel will not make any unilateral steps. 

"What is happening outside the big blocks is probably the future state of Palestine. Inside the big blocks it's Israel and going to stay Israel," he said.

"We are willing to go to start a process in order to compromise and have a two-state solution. But we're not going to do anything that will harm Israel's security. There is no way of going back to 1967 or 1948. Things have changed and this is part of Israel and it's going to stay part of Israel," Lapid stated.

"Israel will protect its interests no matter what. And we are not asking permission from anybody whether or not to stay in our homeland."

Settlement dispute

However, settlements have been one of the most contentious issues between Israelis and Palestinians since the Six-Day War.

According to the Israeli advocacy group Peace Nowmore than 130 settlements have been officially established in the West Bank since 1967, along with more than 90 outposts, which were built without government approval.

There are currently more than half-a-million Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Palestinians argue settlements, along with Israeli-only roads, security barriers and military checkpoints, threaten the viability of a two-state solution.

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah told Conflict Zone in early 2016 that the "expansion of settlements on a daily basis kills the viability of a Palestinian state."

Most countries across the world view settlement building on Palestinian land as a violation of international law.

In December 2016, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution that said the establishment of settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, had "no legal validity" and "constituted a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the vision of two states living side-by-side in peace and security." 

It called for an immediate halt to all settlement building.

Confronted with this resolution, Lapid called the UN "biased against Israel."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also labeled the UN call "shameful" and retaliated with a government decision on a major settlement expansion consisting of thousands of new housing units in the West Bank. 

Infografik Siedlungen im Westjordanland ENGLISCH

'BDS movement is biased and doesn't know what it's talking about'

Lapid has described the leaders of the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which claim to be "working to end international support for Israel's oppression of Palestinians," as anti-Semites linked to the Palestinian Mufti who collaborated with the Nazis.

"I think BDS is a Hamas financed, a terror financed movement," he said on Conflict Zone.

Lapid also said that Jewish Voices for Peace in the US are "useful idiots” used by Hamas who don't know what they are talking about.

Watch video 02:33

My picture of the week | Six-Day War: How long will it last?

"Free the people who hang gay people from telephone poles. Free the people who think it's okay to beat your wife. Free the people who think it's okay to burn churches and to kill Jews and Christians just because they're Jews or Christians. These are the kind of people they want to free. This is the kind of people they want to support. This is the BDS movement."

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