Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay on Thursday called the settlement enterprise “the beautiful and devoted face of Zionism” and said Israel must retain control over the Jordan Valley in any peace deal with the Palestinians.
“The settlement [project] was and remains the beautiful and devoted face of Zionism,” he said, in quotes carried by Army Radio in a pre-recorded video for an event celebrating 50 years of settlement in the Jordan Valley.
“Over the years, regardless of the party in power, the settlement project demonstrated commitment, determination, and love of the country. You, the settlers, are the pioneers of our generations, people who act in the face of adversity, who cause the wilderness to bloom, who realize the impossible,” he added.
Gabbay’s remarks marked further dramatic evidence of his shift to the right. They came days after he said in an interview he would not evacuate West Bank settlements as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians, in comments that represented a dramatic break from the historical stance of the dovish Labor party.
In the past week, he has also said he would not have the Joint (Arab) List as a member of any coalition he heads, and indicated he was “unsure” that Israel has a viable partner on the Palestinian side for a peace accord.
His position on ruling out the evacuation of settlements has been condemned by a number of lawmakers from the Zionist Union, an amalgam of Labor and the Hatnua party.
Gabbay’s comments earlier this week were seen by many as further proof of Labor’s rightward shift since he was elected chairman in July as part of a bid to pick up more moderate members of the ruling Likud party and supporters of the centrist Yesh Atid.
On Thursday, Gabbay also said Israel must maintain control over the Jordan Valley as “Israel’s eastern security buffer” under a future peace agreement, echoing a sentiment expressed by previous Labor leaders, most notably Yitzhak Rabin.
“For us, the Jordan Valley was and will remain Israel’s eastern security buffer. And security requires settlement,” he said.
“But the security of the Jewish people in its land requires not only tanks and fences, but also national unity,” added Gabbay. “And this is our duty as public servants, to be moderate and remember in every statement we make that without unity there is no nation, and no state.”
Speaking at the Jordan Valley event later Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the area a “strategic defensive belt” for Israel and said the Jewish state will never relinquish control over it.
“[The Jordan Valley] has supreme security importance for the State of Israel. The Middle East is unstable and violent. The Jordan Valley is a strategic defensive belt for the state and without it the fundamentalist flood would reach the interior of the country,” said Netanyahu.
“That’s why our eastern line of defense begins in this place. If we are not here, then Tehran and Hamastan will be here. We won’t allow this to happen,” he added. “The Jordan Valley will always be a part of the State of Israel.”
Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report.