Countdown to April 9'Peace should be made by us, talking face to face with them'

At ToI event, Labor’s Gabbay dismisses US peace plan, raps PM’s embrace of Trump

He tells crowd of English speakers that Netanyahu’s worst mistake is making Israel a partisan issue in US and abandoning ties with Democrats, says US negotiators can’t bring peace

Labor party leader Avi Gabbai addresses an event in Tel Aviv sponsored in part by the Times of Israel on March 31, 2019.  (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)
Labor party leader Avi Gabbai addresses an event in Tel Aviv sponsored in part by the Times of Israel on March 31, 2019. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay on Sunday dismissed US President Donald Trump’s forthcoming peace plan, telling hundreds of English speakers in Tel Aviv “I don’t believe lawyers in America can make peace between us and Palestinians.”

“Peace should be made by us, talking face to face with them,” Gabbay said at the event, sponsored by the Times of Israel, the Tel Aviv International Salon, and the Konrad Adenauer Siftung Fund. “Americans are great guys, but they never brought peace to Israel.”

“[Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin and [Jordanian King] Hussein, they actually made an agreement on their own, and then asked the Americans to arrange the ceremony,” for the 1994 peace agreement between Israel and Jordan, Gabbay added.

“The Americans said, ‘great, what’s in the deal?’ And they said, ‘we’ll tell you when we get to Washington.’ The Americans said, ‘so what are we, your caterers?’,” Gabbay recounted.

President Bill Clinton looks on as King Hussein of Jordan, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, right, sign a declaration on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Monday, July 25, 1994, ending 46 years of hostilities between the two countries. (AP Photo/Marcy Nighswander)

“If you don’t have leaders brave enough to make decisions, no American attorney will help us,” said Gabbay, apparently referring to US Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt.

Greenblatt is one member of a Mideast team led by Trump’s top adviser, Jared Kushner, who is married to his daughter, Ivanka. The team also includes David Friedman, the ambassador to Israel. Both Friedman and Greenblatt worked for years as lawyers for Trump and the Trump Organization.

The so-far unrevealed plan is expected to be unveiled after Israel’s April 9 elections.

Last month, Labor released a three-step “separation plan,” or three concrete actions that Israel can take in order to position the country to be in a place to start the peace process when a viable partner comes along.

The three-step plan includes an immediate end to building outside settlement blocs, legislation to compensate settlers living outside the bloc to relocate, and a referendum on the future status of Palestinian neighborhoods on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

Illustrative: A picture taken from the outskirts of the West Bank city of Nablus shows a view of the illegal outpost of Havat Gilad on February 2, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)

“Concessions brought peace to Israel, we made concessions in the Sinai and we have had 40 years of peace [with Egypt],” Gabbay told the crowd at the Ichud Olam Synagogue.

“Zionism as a movement was based on taking initiatives. We make steps. We don’t wait for others to agree with us, we do. Zionists were doers. They were not people who believed in waiting for someone else. So these are three major steps that we should do now, whether or not Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] is ready or not.”

Pressed by questions from the crowd, Gabbay acknowledged that he does not believe Abbas is a viable partner for peace and he could not identify any other potential partners for making peace on the Palestinian side.

Labor leader Avi Gabbay (L) presenting the party’s ‘Palestinian separation plan’ alongside (2L-R) candidate Tal Russo, MK Omer Barlev, MK Shelly Yachomovich and MK Amir Peretz, February 27, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Gabbay also denounced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for courting Trump, a move which he said will alienate Democrats. “Democrats will come back and they will see us as their political rivals,” said Gabbay. “We are very strong but we need the American support, without the American support we are very weak. Taking a risk on [angering Democrats] is the most problematic thing that Netanyahu has done.”

“We have a prime minister that believes he has to hug only one side of America, because it serves his political needs. And that will be problematic in 2020” for the next American presidential election.

Gabbay also stressed his party’s commitment to improving socioeconomic conditions for all sectors of the Israeli population, including focusing on public transportation rather than building roads, streamlining the permit process for new residential construction, improving hospital wait times, and promoting a separation of religion and state for issues like civil marriage.

He added that Labor supports legalizing recreational marijuana for anyone over age 21, something that has become a surprising hot-button issue in these elections.

The Labor party has limped along since the beginning of the election season, never clocking it at more than around seven or eight seats in polls, including a survey released Sunday by Channel 12. This number has held steady – despite a slight boost after Labor primaries – since Gabbay’s public termination of his partnership with MK Tzipi Livni, which he did on live television without giving her prior notice.

Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay (L) announces the shock break up of the Zionist Union as his erstwhile partner, head of opposition Tzipi Livni, looks on, during a party faction meeting in the Knesset on January 1, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gabbay also denied that he was personally attacking the Blue and White party in order to shore up votes for Labor.

“We don’t attack Gantz, we just say they are right [wing],” said Gabbay. The Blue and White party has cast themselves as a centrist party, and Netanyahu has portrayed them as leftists. Gabbay encourage participants to vote with their heart, rather than trying to use their vote strategically by strengthening one party so as create a greater chance of a coalition that leans to the right or the left. Gabbay is worried about losing Labor voters, who might vote Blue and White in hopes of getting an alternative to Netanyahu.

But Gabbay stressed that Blue and White has “closed but not locked” the door to creating a coalition government with Likud. Only a vote for Labor is a true vote against Netanyahu, he said.

“Don’t make calculations or strategies, just vote according to your beliefs,” said Gabbay. “If you believe in our team, you believe in us, vote for us. You have to vote what’s in your heart and vote for your truth. Nobody was ever in a situation where he voted for what he believes in and regretted that decision. But if you vote for a party due to strategy, you could sit at home and be very upset.”

Labor party leader Avi Gabbay (L) and Times of Israel senior analyst Haviv Rettig Gur at an event in Tel Aviv sponsored in part by the Times of Israel on March 31, 2019. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

Despite Labor’s poor showing in the polls, the event was full with the audience eager to hear Gabbay’s plans.

Although some were not taking him too seriously.

Two young olim from America who said they were still undecided about their votes surreptitiously brought in cans of Goldstar beer in order to  play a drinking game. “We take a sip every time he abandons a classic Labor party position,” said Sarah, 22, who is originally from Connecticut and declined to give her last name. “It seems like every time he speaks, he moves away from actual opinions, and from what Labor actually stood for.”

“Tonight, he just said, ‘I’ll fix things.’ How is that even an opinion?” added Sarah, whose rosy cheeks suggested that the game had gone quite well, for her, at least.

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