The leader of the Zionist Union opposition party, Avi Gabbay, made his debut speech at the pro-Israel US lobby AIPAC’s policy conference in Washington DC Sunday, calling for a demilitarized Palestinian state, disavowing “remote” West Bank settlements, and slamming Palestinian discourse for having “anti-Semitic” traits.
In an apparent attempt to differentiate himself from Prime Minister Netanyahu who has largely avoided talk of peace efforts in recent years, Gabbay expressed support for the two-state solution to the Middle East conflict, stressing that Israel “must separate” from the Palestinians.
“My parents left a Muslim-majority country to be part of a Jewish-majority country,” he said. “And I will honor the difficult path they took, I will honor their dream by working for a safe, secure democratic Israel, alongside a demilitarized state for the Palestinian people.”
To achieve peace, Gabbay said both Israel and the Palestinians must build trust by changing key damaging policies.
“First, the Palestinian incitement must end immediately,” he noted. “Because it has anti-Semitic elements, because it leads to terror attacks, and because it moves the Israeli public away from peace. And part of ending the incitement is ending the incentives — the Palestinian Authority must stop paying their terrorists.”
The Palestinian Authority has drawn fury from Israel and the US for giving monthly stipends to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails — including perpetrators of terror attacks. Israel claims this policy incentivizes further attacks.
Gabbay, however, also criticized the Israeli government over construction of unrecognized outposts in the West Bank, which he described as an obstacle to peace.
“We must stop building these caravans on hilltops and glorifying these remote settlements – because they do not provide any security value to Israel,” he said, adding that Israel should also attempt to improve the Palestinian economy.
Repeating comments he has made in Hebrew but not yet said to an English speaking audience, Gabbay used his speech to declare himself a candidate for prime minister, saying his priority would be to fight against poverty in Israel and keep Israel secure while seeking peace.
Echoing some talking points voiced in the past by Netanyahu, Gabbay warned against Iran’s nuclear program, Hezbollah’s threat from the north and Hamas’s threat in the south, as well as praising the alliance with the US and the “incredible” bipartisan support for Israel.
But in an apparent dig Netanyahu, who is due to address the conference on Tuesday, Gabbay said during his speech that a “just and fair economy” is one “clean of corruption.” Netanyahu has recently been engulfed in multiple criminal probes, with police recommending indicting him for bribery in two separate cases.
“As a people and as a nation, we are better than some of the news coming out of Israel today,” said Gabbay, referring to widespread Israeli media reports about the investigations.
He ended his speech by praising US Jewry, telling the audience, “ultra-Orthodox or Orthodox, Conservative or Reform, affiliated or unaffiliated, you are all our brothers and sisters.”