Veteran Labor MK: Annexation the only way to save two-state solution

Responding to criticism over plan to annex settlement blocs, Eitan Cabel tells Times of Israel his party is out of touch with the public it represents

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel attends a party faction meeting at the Knesset on January 22, 2018. (Flash90)
Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel attends a party faction meeting at the Knesset on January 22, 2018. (Flash90)

After being denounced by party colleagues for calling on them to support annexing West Bank settlement blocs, Labor lawmaker Eitan Cabel attacked his party and the rest of the left on Monday, asserting that their failure to adapt to a new reality could put an end to the two-state solution.

“The Israeli left is the most dramatic factor in the coming reality of one state for two peoples,” Cabel said in an interview with The Times of Israel.

The veteran lawmaker said that while Israel’s right has worked to actualize a “messianic vision” of settling all the land beyond the Green Line, his own camp’s inaction was allowing the Israeli population outside the blocs to continue to grow.

“The 100,000 [settlers] outside the blocs will become 300,000 and then we will not be able to evacuate them either,” Cabel argued, highlighting the second point of his plan, which calls for a complete construction freeze outside the blocs.

Zionist Union party chair Isaac Herzog (C) with MK Amir Peretz (2L), MK Hilik Bar (L), MK Eitan Cabel (R) and MK Merav Michaeli (2R) during a press conference welcoming Peretz back to the Labor party, February 8, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In an op-ed Friday in the Haaretz newspaper, Cabel noted Labor’s long-running failure to win elections — the party has led Israel for just six years in the past four decades — and urged his colleagues to “sober up and shake off” their adherence to the land-for-peace paradigm of the Yitzhak Rabin-era Oslo Accords. Only if Labor took “a world view that reflects reality,” he wrote, could it expect the public to return it to power.

Traditionally, Labor has argued that while the settlement blocs would remain part of Israel under any future agreement, the government should only apply sovereignty over them in the context of a peace deal.

But Cabel argued that annexing the blocs and freezing construction outside them would make plain that “what is beyond the new line will be subject to negotiations between us and the Palestinians.”

Cabel’s proposal would see Israel first define the “settlement blocs” — the heavily populated Jewish areas in the West Bank that most Israeli leaders believe will remain part of the Jewish state in any future peace deal.

He suggested that the blocs must include the settlements in Gush Etzion and the Jordan Valley, the cities of Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel, and the northern West Bank community of Karnei Shomron, which together comprise some 300,000 of the estimated 400,000 Israeli settlers outside Jerusalem.

​​Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, left, tours the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim with members of his Zionist Union faction on Thursday, May 19, 2017 (courtesy)

In the remaining, more isolated settlements where some 25 percent of the settlers live (according to Cabel’s numbers), he called for a strict construction freeze.

During a Labor faction meeting on Monday, Cabel’s colleagues, including chairman Avi Gabbay and opposition leader Isaac Herzog, insisted that carrying out such unilateral moves outside the context of an agreement with the Palestinians would exacerbate the situation on the ground.

Cabel argued that the settlements he is proposing to annex are going to remain part of Israel regardless.

“Show me the Israeli leader who will evacuate Ma’ale Adumim! Show me the leader who will get rid of Ariel! He doesn’t exist!” he told The Times of Israel.

Legal experts both in Israel and abroad generally argue that applying Israeli civil law to an area — as Israel did in the parts of the Golan Heights under its control — amounts to a claim to sovereignty over it. On the Golan, Israel offers citizenship to all non-Israelis living there, and the Druze residents who remained in the territory after the 1967 war have slowly begun to take Israeli citizenship in recent years.

Pressed on whether he truly had a place in a faction where his proposal was rejected by MKs across the board, Cabel said he was confident that the initiative would resonate with Labor voters even if their current representatives disapproved.

“The faction is more left-wing than the public that supports it,” he said.

Cabel insisted that the initiative, which he plans to introduce in full later this week, is not a peace plan but rather a plan to save the peace process.

“If one day, the Palestinian Nelson Mandela arrives, there will at least be something for us to talk about,” he said.

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