Surprised by Labor Leader's Settlement Stance, Labor Lawmakers Keep Criticism in House

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Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay speaking in Dimona, October 15, 2017.
Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay speaking in Dimona, October 15, 2017.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Labor Party members were surprised by party leader Avi Gabbay’s statement that settlements needn’t be evacuated under a peace deal with the Palestinians, sparking lively debate in internal party forums. But aside from one bland remark by MK Itzik Shmuli, none of the party’s Jewish lawmakers – including those on its left flank, like Amir Peretz, Shelly Yacimovich and Stav Shaffir – would comment on the record.

"If you make a peace deal, solutions can be found that do not necessitate evacuations," Gabbay in an interview with Israel's Channel 2, after having been asked whether the isolated settlements 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 party’s one Arab lawmaker, Zouheir Bahloul, said he was “shocked at this statement by the person elected to be the leader of the peace camp.”

Gabbay elaborated on his comments on Tuesday, saying that "we must not look at the evacuation of 80,000 Jews casually," adding that, "I don't deal with the rights of Palestinians," and that he believes Israel must find creative solutions in a future peace agreement to avoid evacuating settlements.

Many lawmakers said they had never heard Gabbay say anything like this before. “I’m not one of those who oppose the settlements at any price, and we have to invest in the people who are already there, but saying that even under an agreement [they’ll remain] is going too far,” one, who asked not to be named, said.

Yet even those who disagreed with Gabbay said they didn’t want to challenge him publicly, because the party has suffered so much from years of infighting that they want to give him a chance to make changes.

One person close to Gabbay said the Labor leader “made a deliberate decision to take the risk that his base would flee in order to wink at centrist and soft-right voters.” Gabbay often says in private conversations that “Likudniks like me, I know how to talk to them,” referring to members of the ruling Likud party.

This strategy also explains Gabbay’s efforts to get former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, a Likud member, to decamp to Labor. “Our security views are identical,” Gabbay has said in private conversations. “He’s not ideologically opposed to a Palestinian state.”

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni, sought to clarify Gabbay's comments, saying that Gabbay's statement were his opinions only, and not those of the Zionist Union political alliance of which the Labor Party makes up the largest party, nor of her Hatnua party.

The Labor Party chairman took a combative stance on Israel’s place in the Middle East, saying the state needs “the strongest army” and “has to be aggressive.”

“You can’t be a compromiser on security,” Gabbay told a party gathering in Dimona. “You can’t say, ‘Fine, I understand, fine, they only fired one missile.’ There is no such thing. They fire one missile – you fire 20. That’s all they understand in the Middle East.”

Those remarks came a day after he said he wouldn’t sit in the same government coalition as the predominantly Arab Joint List, a comment that drew criticism from some on the left.

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