Israeli Labor Leader: Let Gazans Work in Israel if Hamas Returns Missing, Slain Israelis

Avi Gabbay says he has 'zero tolerance' for Gaza attacks, but also favors a 'policy of hope for a real life on the other side'

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

Palestinians from the Gaza Strip should be allowed to work in Israel as part of a deal for the return of the missing and slain Israelis held in Gaza, Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay said Tuesday.

“I’m a person who believes in zero tolerance toward anyone who threatens Israel, zero tolerance toward every incident of fire at Israel or harm to Israelis,” he said, speaking during a tour of communities near the Gaza border. “At the same time, I believe in a policy of hope for a real life on the other side as well, and therefore, as part of this, I believe we should starting taking steps to enable workers from Gaza to work in Israel as part of the process of freeing our captives – not with no connection to this issue.”

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Hamas is thought to be holding two Israeli civilians, Abera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, along with the bodies of two soldiers killed during the 2014 Gaza war, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.

Israel must allow Palestinians in Gaza to earn a dignified living, Gabbay continued, as this “serves both us and them.” Israel, he noted, needs workers in construction and agriculture, while in Gaza, “there are tens if not hundreds of thousands of unemployed people.”

Gabbay said the defense establishment also supports this policy, but it hasn’t been implemented because “we have politicians who are afraid to do this, afraid of the public, afraid that the public won’t like it, afraid that their own extremists won’t like it. But we don’t follow the extremists.”

He also commented on the police investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, arguing that new elections should be held. “A situation has been created in which the investigations are completely disrupting the government’s work,” he said. “We see a government that isn’t tending to the public at all; it’s only tending to politics.”

'PM, gov't dealing only with own survival'

All the bills proposed recently “stem from internal politics,” he charged, citing in particular a bill enabling the interior minister to veto municipal bylaws permitting commerce on Shabbat and a bill permitting civilian courts to impose the death penalty on terrorists. “The government has stopped dealing with our lives; it’s dealing with its own survival and the prime minister’s survival. Therefore, it’s right to call elections.”

Finally, Gabbay discussed the controversial recent meeting between Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and Ehud Barak, a former prime minister, defense minister, chief of staff and Labor Party chairman who has publicly mulled throwing his hat back into the political ring. “I know the chief of staff has met with a great many former chiefs of staff and former defense ministers,” Gabbay said. “He speaks with them and consults them, and it’s good that he does so.”

“Ehud Barak also happens to be a political person,” Gabbay continued. “Most former chiefs of staff, or at least many of them, are political people, and that’s fine. I trust the chief of staff to make an absolute distinction between politics and his job, and I have no problem with this.”