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Interview

Labor’s Moatti: We must separate from Palestinians, oust outlying West Bank settlers

Ahead of Tuesday’s Labor primaries, MK lays out her vision for building a foundation for peace, branding the alternative – a binational solution – ‘horrible’

Carrie Keller-Lynn

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Labor party MK Emilie Moatti attends a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset, November 9, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Labor party MK Emilie Moatti attends a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset, November 9, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In Emilie Moatti’s nightmare vision of the near future, Israel and the Palestinians remain at each other’s throats until the whole land balkanizes into warring ethnic entities. In her dreams, Israel stops waiting for a peace deal, voluntarily leaves the West Bank and Gaza for the Palestinians to figure out what to do, and moves on.

As her party vies for center-left votes, the Labor lawmaker is pitching immediate, unilateral progress toward the latter option as the way to prevent a demographic timebomb similar to that which tore apart Yugoslavia some 30 years ago.

“We need two states for two people; otherwise we’re opening a branch of Yugoslavia,” she said, declaring that it would be a “tragedy” should a single, non-Jewish state emerge.

Over this past year as a freshman Knesset member, Moatti cut a figure as one of the parliament’s foreign envoys, serving as head of the Knesset delegation to the European Council as well as head of a subcommittee on foreign policy and public diplomacy, a role in which she helped oversee the Foreign Ministry.

Now, as she campaigns to defend her spot on the slate in Labor’s Tuesday primaries, Moatti shared her thoughts on what Israel can do to jumpstart the process of creating a separate Palestinian state during an interview last week with The Times of Israel.

Preparing for a potential two-state solution

After serving as a media adviser to former foreign minister Tzipi Livni and then becoming a television personality and award-winning novelist, Moatti made her Knesset debut in June 2021, having secured the third spot on Labor’s candidate list.

While she cares about creating “equal opportunities” for different socioeconomic populations, Moatti said the bulk of her Knesset focus has been on diplomatic issues, especially tied to making peace with Israel’s neighbors. As Israel signed and then worked to deepen the Abraham Accords with several Arab countries, peacemaking with the Palestinians has been on the backburner in recent years without real enthusiasm on either the Israeli or Palestinian side of the negotiating table.

Labor MK Emilie Moatti in the Knesset plenum hall, February 16, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Moatti’s position is similar to that of her former boss Livni: She wants to separate the sides, with the hope of following that with a diplomatic agreement.

“If we don’t separate from the Palestinians tomorrow, and if we don’t manage the conflict, we’ll quickly understand that the conflict manages us and that we don’t have a way out of this saga. We’ll have a binational state,” she said.

“There are some radical extremists on the left that say, ‘Let’s have a state of all of its citizens; we’ll all live together.’ That’s a horrible vision, in my opinion,” she said.

On this point, Moatti and several other softer leftists differ with some supporters of the left-wing Meretz party. Labor and Meretz were initially under intense scrutiny over the possibility that they would run a unified slate for the upcoming November election in order to ensure Meretz’s survival, but with the latter party looking more likely to pass the electoral threshold on its own, pressure has subsided.

Presenting her vision for the next five years, Moatti outlined three steps she would like the Israeli government to take now, in order to “prepare the ground for separation from the Palestinians.”

Illustrative: View of the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, on October 24, 2019. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Specifically, Moatti advocates expanding West Bank territory defined as Area B —  which is under Palestinian administrative control and Israeli military control — as well as preventing the creation of all new illegal settler outposts and implementing an evacuation and compensation plan for Jewish settlers living outside of the major settlement blocs.

That last part is reminiscent of Livni’s former party chief, former prime minister Ariel Sharon — the father of Israel’s 2005 unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip.

While a 2021 Israel Democracy Institute survey found that only 41 percent of Israelis think that continuing the current status quo is desirable, even fewer — 34% — found the two-state solution acceptable.

Moatti’s method for ending the conflict is highly unlikely to gain traction in the current political climate. Last year, Labor entered its first government in a decade when it lent the support of its seven seats to the diverse – and now outgoing – eight-party coalition. That government broke apart at least partially due to ideological differences related to the conflict that Moatti wants to address, and current polls predict a center-left alliance does not have enough seats to form a government without right-wing partners, if at all.

Practice what you preach

Over her first year in the Knesset, Moatti quietly built a resume that she hopes can eventually position her in a role similar to that of Meretz’s outgoing regional cooperation minister, Essawi Frej.

As part of her work in the Knesset’s closed-door Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Moatti helped initiate a series of six planned discussions that included improving Palestinian work, education, coexistence and women’s affairs.

Minister Essawi Frej attends a plenum session at the Knesset, July 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Although the Defense Ministry increased Palestinian work permits by 3,000 after a January meeting on the subject, she said more time is needed to gradually create a real change in the state’s security approach toward the Palestinians.

“The fact that these conversations happened at all is an achievement… They never dealt with Palestinians through a civil lens,” she said, “especially when there isn’t a diplomatic solution on the horizon.”

Moatti worked with Frej to establish a government advisory body akin to the National Security Council that would be focused on peace promotion.

Proposed as the Commission for the Promotion of Peace, she said efforts have succeeded in pulling NIS 10 million ($3 million) for a temporary commission folded under Frej’s ministry to focus on building bridges to Palestinians and Muslim countries that don’t have relations with Israel.

The mid-June government collapse, however, doomed the effort.

Will Labor move toward the center?

Moatti agrees with what has become accepted wisdom among many politicos, that the November 1 elections will likely be decided by soft-right voters. Labor does not have a chance of capturing them, but her potential political partners – Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party and Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Justice Minister Gideon Saar’s unified Blue and White-New Hope party – will need to gear their party slates and election promises toward courting these religiously liberal but ideologically hawkish voters, if they want a chance to win the vote.

The Labor party itself just held a leadership contest that saw some party members advocate moving toward the political center, most notably the party’s secretary general Eran Hermoni.

Labor Secretary General Eran Hermoni (Courtesy)

Moatti, however, thinks that isn’t Labor’s role, which is instead to be a left-leaning wind in a center-left bloc’s sail.

“After years of delegitimization of the left, it’s easier to say ‘I’m a centrist,’” she said.

Even if the Labor party finds itself excluded from the coalition come November, Moatti said, the party will endeavor to continue its work to shape the country from the opposition.

“We’ll be a meaningful part of the Knesset,” she promised.

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