Labor head: ‘United’ Jerusalem ‘more important than peace’

Avi Gabbay praises Trump’s recognition of Israel’s capital, says over 90% of Israelis ‘yearn’ for city’s unity

Zionist Union head Avi Gabbay leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 27, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Zionist Union head Avi Gabbay leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 27, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The head of the left-leaning Labor party said preserving a “united” Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty is more important than clinching a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Speaking with Hadashot news Thursday, Avi Gabbay praised US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital a day earlier, and said over 90 percent of Israelis “yearn for a united Jerusalem.”

In light of this, he said, “A united Jerusalem is even more important than peace.”

“A united Jerusalem is the symbol of Israel. My parents arrived in Israel [from Morocco] and waited at the airport for five days in order to come to Jerusalem,” said Gabbay, who was born and raised in the city.

Although Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital is embraced by parties on both sides of the political spectrum, the tone of Gabbay’s remarks contrasted with that of the dovish Labor, which has long been the Israeli political standard-bearer for reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Nonetheless, Labor’s iconic ex-general turned peace-seeking leader, the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, spoke publicly against compromising Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.

Since becoming the party’s leader in July, Gabbay has sought to move the party rightward in a bid to swell its ranks, and has made a number of comments at odds with Labor’s historical stances.

Israeli flags flutter in the wind as the Dome of the Rock is seen in the background, in Jerusalem’s Old City, on December 5, 2017.(AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)

In October, he said he would not evacuate West Bank settlements as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians. His remark was later criticized by a number of lawmakers from the Zionist Union, the Knesset faction incorporating Labor and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party.

Days later, he called the settlement enterprise “the beautiful and devoted face of Zionism.”

Despite Gabbay’s efforts to attract right-leaning voters, a Channel 10 news poll last month said Labor would win 18 seats if elections were held, six fewer than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and four fewer than Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid.

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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