New leader shifts main opposition party sharply to the right

Labor head says he won’t evacuate settlements under peace deal

Avi Gabbay: Idea that West Bank homes would need to be uprooted in accord with Palestinians is ‘not correct’

Labor party leader Avi Gabbay speaks during a press conference at the party's offices in Tel Aviv on October 1, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)
Labor party leader Avi Gabbay speaks during a press conference at the party's offices in Tel Aviv on October 1, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)

Labor party head Avi Gabbay said he would not evacuate West Bank settlements as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians, in remarks that represent a dramatic break from the historical stance of the dovish party.

“I won’t evacuate settlements in the framework of a peace deal,” said Gabbay, in a preview broadcast Monday of an interview with Channel 2 set to air in full Tuesday. “If you are making peace, why do you need to evacuate?”

Elaborating on his comments, Gabbay said the notion any peace deal would by necessity require the evacuation of settlements is mistaken.

“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.”

Asked how this position differed from that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed he will not uproot any settlements, Gabbay said, “There is a huge gap between those who at least want to get there [to a peace deal] and those who don’t want to get there.”

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.

(R-L) Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the joint Nobel Peace Prize winners for 1994, in Olso, Norway. (Government Press Office via Getty Images)

The comments confirmed a dramatic right-wing shift in Labor since Gabbay’s 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 chosen as Labor chairman, the party has seen a leap 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.

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