Eyeing Peace Plan of His Own, Israeli Labor Leader Gabbay Meets With Palestinians, Americans

Avi Gabbay has met with peace brokers and key advisers, including the likes of Tony Blair and Dennis Ross, since winning his election to party leader in July

Avi Gabbay, leader of Israel's Labor Party, at an event
Ilan Assayag

As part of efforts to craft his own policy and peace proposal, the new Labor Party chief, Avi Gabbay, has held dozens of meetings in recent months with foreign figures who have taken part in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

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The sessions have been held both in Israel and abroad with people who have been involved in both public and secret negotiations.

For example, Gabbay has met with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was the representative of the Middle East Quartet, comprised of the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia. He has also met with former U.S. envoy, peace negotiator and White House adviser Dennis Ross, as well as with a senior adviser to the Palestinian Authority, who in the past took part in secret contacts with Israel.

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Where Gabbay stands on key issues

Gabbay has also held meetings with representatives of the Trump administration who sought to understand the new Labor leader's positions as a potential candidate for prime minister.

Two months ago, Gabbay was criticized from the left and within his own party when he told Channel 2 News that an evacuation of settlements would not necessarily be required in a peace agreement.

“If you make a peace deal, solutions can be found that do not necessitate evacuations,” Gabbay said after being asked whether the isolated settlements of Eli or Ofra would have to be evacuated.

“If a peace deal is made, why do we need to evacuate? I think the dynamic or the terminology that we have become accustomed to, that if you make a peace deal you evacuate, is not actually true.”

The two-state solution remains Gabbay’s main approach, but he continues to refuse to provide details on what Israel would provide in return for a peace agreement. For example, at one meeting in a European country, which included Palestinian representatives, Gabbay said he would provide such details only as part of actual peace negotiations.

Avi Gabbay in Tel Aviv, September 14, 2017
Ilan Assayag

But at the Saban Forum in Washington on Sunday, Gabbay said that as part of confidence-building measures, Israel must stop construction outside the settlement blocs, while “at the same time, we can reduce the number of Palestinians currently under Israeli civilian control as long as there is no security reason for it.” He also demanded an end to the “incitement in the Palestinian Authority.”

Gabbay’s main direction on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process appears to fit with that of U.S. President Donald Trump: negotiations similar to those in the business world, not politics.

For example, Gabbay said at the Saban Forum: “Beyond security, a peace agreement is worth $18 billion a year to the Israeli economy. This is a huge sum, which means that it will be possible, for example, to completely eliminate the VAT in Israel, which means that the cost of living can be reduced by 15 percent if there is a long-term diplomatic agreement.” 

Gabbay has displayed his business-like approach in private meetings with comments to the effect that nothing will come out of conferences; the negotiations must be between people, not lawyers.