New Leader of Israeli Left: We Don't Need to Evacuate Settlements if There's a Peace Deal

One day after saying he won't sit with main Israeli Arab party, Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay sends abnormally hawkish message to Arab states: 'You fire one missile – we'll fire 20'

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

Israel does not necessarily need to evacuate any West Bank settlements in a future peace deal with the Palestinians, Labor party leader Avi Gabbay said Monday.

The left-wing party leader made the statement in an interview with Israel's Channel 2, after having been asked whether the Eli or Ofra settlements would have to be evacuated.

"If you make a peace deal, solutions can be found that do not necessitate evacuations," Gabbay said. "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."

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.

Ahmad Majdalani, a senior adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said that Gabbay's comments were not surprising in light of the fact that he was the leader of Labor, the same party that laid the foundations of the settlement enterprise.

Speaking to Haaretz, Majdalani said that Gabbay's sudden lurch rightward was a vain attempt to bring him more seats next election, even though the policies he is espousing are simply a copy of Likud's. 

On Sunday, 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.

Gabbay told his audience in the southern city: “First of all, we have to understand something very simple: We’re the strong ones here. They’re always scaring us, but we’re the strong ones here. We’re stronger than the Arabs. We don’t have to be afraid of them; the Arabs have to be afraid of us.”

On the Palestinian issue he said, “It’s not certain there’s a partner on the other side. Over the past months I’ve met many statesmen and security people who have negotiated with the Palestinians. I ask them all one question: ‘Is there a partner? Is there someone to come to an agreement with?’ Half say no, half say yes. Surprisingly, those with a security background say yes.”

With regard to the decision to hold the gathering in what is known as the country’s periphery, Gabbay noted, “We ensure that we [hold] these gatherings outside of Tel Aviv because I want to be the prime minister of Israel, not Tel Aviv.”

The crowd in Dimona, which was made up primarily of people in their 50s and older, were restrained in their responses to Gabbay, who became the party’s new chairman in July. “There are no young people here because they’ve stopped believing,” said Gabbay.