Labor chairman: I’ll promote West Bank disengagement if peace talks fail
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Israel must be 'a state with a clear Jewish majority'

Labor chairman: I’ll promote West Bank disengagement if peace talks fail

Avi Gabbay says it's Israel's responsibility, not Trump's, to solve Palestinian conflict, argues Netanyahu's meetings with world leaders aren't bearing fruit

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Zionist Union head Avi Gabbay leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on January 15, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Zionist Union head Avi Gabbay leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on January 15, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay said Saturday that he would promote a West Bank disengagement plan if he failed to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians as prime minister.

“It’s in Israel’s best interest to separate from the Palestinians,” he told a crowd at a cultural event in the central town of Ness Ziona. It would be preferable to achieve a negotiated diplomatic accord, but “if they don’t want to reach an agreement, we’ll have to separate from them unilaterally,” he said.

“It’s our generation’s responsibility to reach an solution. Not [US President] Trump’s. We believe the solution is two states for two peoples,” Gabbay added.

In this regard, the leader of the opposition’s largest faction said none of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s various meetings with world leaders in recent weeks was bearing any fruit.

“After the meetings and the media attention with Trump, [Vice President] Pence and [Russian President] Putin [is over], we’re left here with 4.5 million Palestinians and we have to solve our own problems,” Gabbay said.

US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on January 25, 2018 (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)

Gabbay criticized the Likud Central Committee’s unanimous December vote in favor of annexing parts of the West Bank.

“The Likud Central Committee determined: annexation of millions of Palestinians. The Labor Party conference will determine: separation (from the Palestinians) and a state with a clear Jewish majority.”

“The state of Israel needs a leader who recognizes an opportunity and knows hows to implement it,” he added, claiming that “a real opportunity has emerged for an Arab-initiated agreement, which is something the moderate Arab states also want.”

Gabbay’s comments marked the continuation of what appeared to be a pivot back toward the left after recent polls saw support for his party diminish considerably.

Last week, Gabbay vowed not sit in a coalition with Netanyahu “in any situation,” and rejected claims he had been moving his center-left party to the right.

Gabbay, who served as environmental protection minister for the Kulanu party, quit the government in protest following Avigdor Liberman’s appointment as defense chief in 2016.

Labor party candidate Avi Gabbay arrives to a polling station at Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv on July 10, 2017. (Alster/Flash90)

After being elected last July to head the Labor party as well the Zionist Union —  an amalgam of Labor and the Hatnua party — he made a number of remarks suggesting he was seeking to move Labor to the right in a bid to attract support from more hawkish voters.

Gabbay pledged not to evacuate West Bank settlements under a peace deal, said a united Jerusalem was more important than piece, and remarked that the left “forgot what it means to be a Jew” — in comments he clarified in an interview with The Times of Israel in late December.

Gabbay told attendees at a Dead Sea conference of contractors last week that his party would soon present his plan for reaching a two-state solution.

While he has worked to position himself as a candidate for prime minister, his path to forming a coalition is beset with difficulty.

Both Yisrael Beytenu chief Liberman and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, the Kulanu leader, have ruled out joining a Gabbay-led government.

Gabbay would also likely have trouble convincing MK Yair Lapid to join a coalition he heads, as the centrist Yesh Atid party leader is also presenting himself as an alternative to Netanyahu, and is working to pick up voters on the right.

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