Finance Minister Yair Lapid weighed in on the Gaza ceasefire deal, which has inspired waves of criticism against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in an interview with Ynet and said that "Operation Protective Edge cannot end with a ceasefire. The operation needs to end only after Gaza has been demilitarized."
The long-term yet opened-ended ceasefire came into effect on Tuesday stipulated the opening of Gaza's crossings for goods and aid under heavy Israeli supervision, which Palestinian negotiators say will signal the end of Israel's crippling eight-year long blockade of the Strip, long a key Palestinian condition. Additional issues like the demilitarization of Gaza, a central Israeli demand, as well as other Palestinian demands, like the reopening of Gaza's airport, will be discussed at a later date.
Lapid commented on the issue of Gaza's demilitarization, which has been pushed into the background as sides worked to bring about an immediate end to fighting, which lasted over seven weeks, and said "we need to act to demilitarize the Strip, therefore the operation cannot end in with this ceasefire. Gaza's demilitarization is the goal and it needs to be achieved."
Israel's Cabinet was set to convene Thursday evening at 8 pm amid growing criticism from within the coalition at the Gaza ceasefire, which was passed without a Cabinet vote and has inspired harsh remarks from senior ministers, who said Israel capitulated to Hamas' demands.
When asked about the vote, Lapid defended the move, saying "the Cabinet authorized the Israeli negotiations team to go and reach a ceasefire under the specific conditions."
Lapid claimed that negotiators were acting well within their mandate, but noted that demilitarization cannot be neglected, "we cannot confine ourselves to easy achievements. The test of leadership is to find hope in every situation and turn into something practical."
Lapid, considered a centrist in Netanyahu's right-wing coalition, has demanded the government commit to a peace process with the Palestinians, but backed ending the last round of talks after the Palestinians formed a unity government including Hamas.
Earlier in the day a Jordanian newspaper reported that Prime Minister Netanyahu met in secret with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Jordan before the Gaza ceasefire was announced Tuesday.
Lapid did not comment on the report, but said that "the political process (with the Palestinians) must be on the table. We need a control mechanism which will lead to an eventual disengagement (between Israel and the Palestinians), and we need it now more than ever.
"People cannot live without hope, and we need to work to disengage ourselves from the Palestinians. To say that we can remain connected to them forever is a bad idea," he said.
During the operation, many Israelis expressed anger at what they called described as premature calls on southern residents to return to the south by IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz.
When asked whether it was now safe to return, Lapid answered positively, saying "there is a lull and during this ceasefire, residents can return to their homes, these are the IDF's instructions. The ceasefire is the beginning of a new chapter in the security of southern residents."
Lapid also commented on economic issues, as befitting a finance minister, and vowed not to raise taxes in wake of the heavy costs of the Gaza operation.
"We must not raise taxes, it is bad for the Israeli economy," he said. Recent reports said he and Bank of Israel Governess Prof. Karnit Flug were at odds over the issue. Lapid commented on their reported tensions, saying "there is nothing personal about it. My responsibility is set our national priorities."
Amit Kotler, Attila Somfalvi and Roi Kais contributed to this report.