A prominent settler leader on Tuesday cited the Labor party leader’s recent pledge to hold on to all settlements in a future peace deal as proof of his movement’s growing dominance and consensus appeal.
Speaking at the annual conference of the Amana settlement construction organization that he heads, Ze’ev (“Zambish”) Hever highlighted Avi Gabbay’s embrace of Jewish communities beyond the Green Line.
“In his plan, the settlements will remain,” said Hever of the recently elected Labor leader, who, in a departure from left-wing orthodoxy, told Channel 2 news last month that he “won’t evacuate settlements in the framework of a peace deal.”
“The head of the Zionist Union, the head of the leftist camp, says such a thing — it isn’t an empty statement. People say that it’s only electioneering, but there is an appreciation here of the settlement movement’s increasingly secure place in the heart of the Jewish people,” said Hever.
“Therefore, a person who wants to be the one who claims leadership must say something like that… This means that our movement is very powerful and very large,” he continued.
Since being elected as head of Labor in July, in an effort to court centrist voters, Gabbay has made a number of statements at odds with the longstanding views of the traditionally left-leaning party. On Monday, he told a group of students at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba that the left “forgot what it means to be a Jew” and last month he referred to West Bank settlements as “the beautiful and devoted face of Zionism.”
Amana is the development arm of the settlement movement, building new communities across the Green Line in addition to strengthening existing ones. Hever is a legendary mover and shaker in the movement, having long wielded considerable influence both within the Yesha settlement umbrella council and in broader right-wing politics as well.
The theme for Tuesday’s daylong conference was “On our way to a million,” staking out the organization’s goal of more than doubling the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, currently assessed at some 450,000.
“It is not for nothing that we established the goal of 1 million. It is not a dream. We believe it is possible,” said Hever, predicting that such an achievement could “absolutely” be reached in 10-15 years.