Lawmakers from his own faction on Monday were quick to distance themselves from Labor chairman Avi Gabbay after he announced that he would not evacuate West Bank settlements as part of a future peace deal with the Palestinians, in what would be a major shift in policy for the center-left parties.
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni said Gabbay’s statement was his personal opinion, and did not reflect the position of her Hatnua party, or the Zionist Union Knesset alliance, to which the Labor party and Hatnua belong.
“The opposition to evacuating settlements is not the position of the Zionist Union,” she said.
“We have to separate from the Palestinians,” Labor MK Nachman Shai tweeted. “We will have to evacuate settlements with pain and sorrow.”
Fellow Labor MK Itzik Shmuli called the two state solution “within our own existential interest,” and said it would require some “painful” concessions on Israel’s part.
“Otherwise my generation will have to choose between a Jewish dictatorship and an Arab state.”
Another Hatnua lawmaker, Ksenia Svetlova, said that “only a political settlement and separation from Palestinians will ensure the existence of a Jewish and democratic state,” while Labor MK Zouheir Bahloul expressed “regret and shock by the remarks made by the elected leader of the peace camp.”
Earlier on Monday, Channel 2 aired a preview of an interview with Gabbay in which he said that uprooting Israelis from their homes in the West Bank would not be a part of a peace deal with the Palestinians.
“I won’t evacuate settlements in the framework of a peace deal,” he said. “If you are making peace, why do you need to evacuate?”
Gabbay said the notion that an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement deal would require the evacuation of West Bank settlements was untrue.
“I think the dynamic and terminology that have become commonplace here, that ‘if you make peace — evacuate,’ is not in fact correct,” he said. “If you make a peace deal, it is possible to find solutions that don’t require evacuating.”
Gabbay’s comments represented a shift in his position on settlements since he was elected Labor’s head in July, when he said “Dimona, not Amona,” referring respectively to a development town in southern Israel and a now evacuated illegal outpost in the West Bank that right-wing lawmakers waged an arduous campaign against demolishing.
The center-left Labor party has long been the Israeli political standard bearer for reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians — involving the relinquishing of most of the West Bank and many of the settlements — with former Labor prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak all investing considerable efforts to negotiate an accord. Their efforts, brokered by the United States, did not yield a permanent agreement.
Ironically, it was a then-Likud prime minister, Ariel Sharon, who ordered the 2005 “Disengagement” in which Israel withdrew from the entire Gaza Strip, with all of Gaza’s settlements demolished along with four in the West Bank and their 7-8,000 residents required to leave.
Gabbay’s comments confirmed his dramatic right-wing shift of Labor since his election.
At an event over the weekend, Gabbay said he would not sit in a government with the Joint (Arab) List — the 13-member Arab Knesset party. “We will not sit with them, unequivocally,” Gabbay said. “I do not see anything that connects us to them or allows us to be in the same government with them.”
Since he was elected Labor chairman, the party has seen a rise in the polls, with a number of the seats it is expected to pick up coming at the expense of Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party. Like Gabbay, Lapid has tacked rightward on a number of issues, in a bid to pick up support from more moderate members of the ruling Likud party.