TEL AVIV – In recent weeks, representatives for the Obama administration have held meetings with a senior politician here in which the U.S. delegates brought up the possibility of replacing Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, according to an informed Jerusalem diplomatic source.
The meetings were held with Israel’s popular finance minister, Yair Lapid, founder and leader of the Yesh Atid Party, which became the second-largest party in the Knesset winning 19 seats in the last election.
The diplomatic source said the Obama administration identified Lapid as a moderate who could be helpful in pushing the Israeli government into accepting the framework to create a future Palestinian state.
According to the source, the talks included the possibility of Lapid bolting Netanyahu’s government if the prime minister rejects the U.S.-brokered regional talks.
Lapid, however, is unlikely to abandon his government post over talks the Palestinians themselves have been less than enthusiastic about.
Such a move could be politically dangerous for Lapid, with polls showing a significant segment of the Israeli public has grown weary of the bid to create a Palestinian state amid regional turmoil, including the Syrian civil war, recent changes of leadership in Egypt and fears over Iran’s nuclear program.
Further, Lapid is a relative newcomer to Israeli politics. He will want more time to use his finance minister post to launch initiatives that could bolster a future run for prime minister.
If Lapid and his 19 Knesset seats did abandon Netanyahu’s government, the move could put the prime minister’s coalition in crisis, especially if other parties were to follow suit. Netanyahu must maintain a plurality of the Knesset’s 120 Knesset seats in his governing coalition or he would have to face early elections.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennet, leader of the nationalist My Home party, has made a career out of openly challenging Netanyahu on numerous fronts. Bennet is part of the coalition with his party’s 12 seats. He has not been shy about his own future prime ministerial aspirations.
Last month, WND reported the Palestinian Authority received a pledge from the U.S. that by the end of 2014, the Obama administration will issue an official written declaration presenting general highlights of a future Palestinian state, according to a senior Palestinian negotiator.
The negotiator further said thhe goal is to have the general framework for a deal ironed out by April.
The framework for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement being brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry calls for the phased implementation of more Palestinian sovereignty within three to five years, the negotiator said at the time.
As part of the written declaration, the U.S. is set to officially recognize Palestinian rights in eastern sections of Jerusalem, without defining the exact territories that would be eventually handed to the PA.
The U.S. will declare on paper that the Jordan Valley territory is “occupied” by Israel and that Palestinians have rights there, the negotiator said.
Kerry is currently discussing a proposal in which Israel would lease some of the Jordan Valley from the PA so some Israeli communities in the area can stay, said the negotiator.
The written framework will also declare the West Bank “occupied,” according to the negotiator.
Besides a declaration on paper, Kerry continues to broker specifics of a final-status deal, the negotiator said.
WND previously reported Kerry is asking for the international community to administer the holy sites in the eastern section of Jerusalem, while details are still being discussed about whether Palestinians will have some symbolic presence in the area.
WND in December was first to report Kerry’s plan calling for an international administrative mandate to control holy sites in eastern Jerusalem.
The exact composition of the international mandate is up for discussion, but Kerry’s plan recommended a coalition that includes the Vatican and a group of Muslim countries such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
The international arrangement is being proposed as a temporary solution for about two to three years while security arrangements in Jerusalem between Israelis and Palestinians are finalized, said Israeli and Palestinian diplomatic sources.