Zero Experience and Multiple Mistakes: Can Israel's Foreign Minister Ruin its Foreign Relations?
© REUTERS / WAMIsrael's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid shakes hands with United Arab Emirates' Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, UAE June 29, 2021.
© REUTERS / WAM
The deeds and statements of Yair Lapid, who heads the Yesh Atid party, have already raised eyebrows in a number of states, including in the United Arab Emirates, where the Israeli foreign minister failed to meet the country's businessmen, as well as China and, more recently, Poland.
When Poland's Senate passed a law that prevented the restitution of Jewish property stolen during the Holocaust, Israel's Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid immediately fired back.
"We are watching with great concern the progress of the legislation in Poland regarding the rights to property restitution that are being stolen from the Holocaust victims," said Lapid. "Poland knows very well what the correct and proper thing to do is. The passage of the Polish property law now in Warsaw will seriously harm our relations," the Foreign Minister warned.
But for Yanki Farber, a foreign news reporter for Behadrei Haredim, one of the leading news websites in Israel, what will harm the relations between the two nations is not the Polish law, but rather Lapid's comments themselves.
"What Poland is saying is that it didn't start the Holocaust, and hence cannot be sued. Israel cannot fight with everyone and sometimes we simply need to give up. But the problem is that Lapid doesn't think this way. He doesn't think of what will happen a day later. All he cares about is showing that he is taking a different policy than that of [former Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu."
During his 12 years in office, Netanyahu managed to establish a stable relationship with Polish authorities. Although he did accuse the Poles of collaborating with the Nazis, ties with Warsaw were largely friendly, and the two nations saw eye-to-eye on a number of issues, including the status of Arab and Muslim refugees, the fight against terrorism and the rights of the LGBT community.
It was due to these common interests that over the years the ties between Israel and Poland have continued to grow. As of 2018, there were almost 20 partnerships between the states and tourism was blossoming; additionally, Israel's direct investments in Poland were estimated at more than $3.5 billion.
Now, under the new Israeli leadership, that romance might soon change, says Farber.
"We need to understand that Poland is one of the very few European Union states, apart from Hungary, that supports Israel all the time. So fighting with them is totally pointless."
However, Poland is far from being the only country that has been slammed by Israel's foreign minister, and during his almost two months in office there have also been other states that have become irritated by the comments and deeds of the Israeli top official.
Such was the case with China, when due to US pressure, Israel joined a UN declaration criticising Beijing over alleged human rights abuses against Muslims living in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Lapid's conduct has also reportedly stirred discomfort in the United Arab Emirates, the first Gulf state to have normalised relations with Israel in October 2020.
© REUTERS / HANDOUTIsraeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is greeted upon his arrival in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates June 29, 2021.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is greeted upon his arrival in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates June 29, 2021.
© REUTERS / HANDOUT
At the end of June, Lapid, who visited the UAE as his first official trip, met a number of high-ranking Emirati officials. Although his visit was branded largely successful, he did manage to anger local businessmen after he decided to cancel a meeting with them.
"What does he think he is doing? The world relies on China. If we anger them, they will not sell anything to us. As for the UAE... Lapid's move was totally disgusting and he gave a bad name to Israel," said Farber.
Longing for Netanyahu
Looking at the developments of the past several weeks, Farber says he is longing for the days of Netanyahu, who managed to maintain stable relations with all regional and international players.
He is well aware that Netanyahu was not immune to mistakes. His transportation minister Yisrael Katz accused the Poles of "suckling anti-Semitism with their mothers milk".
© REUTERS / Amir CohenFILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen during the the 2016 Genesis Prize award-ceremony in Jerusalem, June 23, 2016.
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen during the the 2016 Genesis Prize award-ceremony in Jerusalem, June 23, 2016.
© REUTERS / Amir Cohen
Netanyahu himself made several controversial comments with regard to Poland. He was also slammed for pushing the relations with the UAE way too hard and accused of revealing secret information about his alleged trip to Saudi Arabia, something that reportedly angered Riyadh.
Yet, Farber says these mistakes can hardly be compared to what Lapid is currently doing.
"Netanyahu was not perfect and he made mistakes too. But he did care about Israel, unlike Lapid, who doesn't. Lapid doesn't have the experience to manage Israel's foreign policy. And the damage he is going to do to the country will be very hard to fix. Maybe it will even be impossible to mend those ties."