Zionist Union leader rejects MK’s proposal of annexing settlement blocs

Pouring cold water on Eitan Cabel’s call for his party to ‘sober up,’ Avi Gabbay dismisses idea of unilateral moves, calls for peace talks

Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay leads a faction meeting in Knesset on May 7, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay leads a faction meeting in Knesset on May 7, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The leader of the opposition Zionist Union and the Labor party on Sunday poured cold water on a call by one of his faction‘s veteran MKs for his party to “sober up” and push for the annexation of Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank.

Avi Gabbay said in a TV interview that he was opposed to unilateral moves.

“The Labor Party is a democratic party and everyone has the right to express an opinion, but at the end of the day, the party’s path is what determines things and our position is clear: ensuring the state’s security in the long term through separating into two states through a diplomatic arrangement,” Gabbay said.

“Leaders don’t have to please the public, they have to tell the public what their positions are whether people like it or not,” he added.

In an op-ed Friday in the Haaretz newspaper, Eitan 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.

MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) at the Knesset, June 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel “cannot wait for the Palestinian side because Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] has already given up on the two-state solution,” he wrote in the op-ed.

On Sunday, Gabbay said that he believed better results could be achieved by negotiating with the Palestinians than by not doing so, and that today, Israel was in the “best position” to negotiate, with Donald Trump in the White House, with the Gulf states wanting a peace deal.

“Throughout my life, I’ve negotiated when I was in a strong position and not when I was weak,” said Gabbay, a former CEO of the Bezeq telecommunications giant.

Cabel drew widespread criticism from within the party following the publication of his column.

On Saturday, the “young guard” of Labor — the main constituent party in the Zionist Union faction —  called on Gabbay, General Secretary Eran Hermoni and party lawmakers to suspend Cabel.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during an event at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, on April 23, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Cabel’s proposal would see Israel first define the “settlement blocs” — the heavily populated Jewish areas in the West Bank that are mostly close to the Green Line boundary and 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.

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.

He clarified on Sunday that the move would not include granting Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians living in those blocs.

Asked in an Israel Radio interview whether the Palestinians living in the annexed areas would become Israeli citizens, Cabel replied dismissively, “No, of course not. What citizenship, what are you talking about?”

He explained, “I’m not urging formal legal annexation, but simply applying Israeli civil law to everyone living in those blocs.” The Palestinians living in those areas “remain an intrinsic part of the blocs, but there’s no Israeli citizenship because you haven’t made the areas an inseparable part of the State 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 the area. 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.

The city of Ma’ale Adumim, one of the largest Israeli settlements in the West Bank. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

His idea, Cabel explained on Sunday, was simply to aid Israeli settlers who “today live under a complicated legal regime that’s partly military rule, partly Israeli law, and even partly Jordanian law. this situation hurts Israeli citizens who must live under military rule, and separates them from the rest of Israel’s citizens and places on them unnecessary restrictions. There’s no inherent reason for applying one law for a resident of the Etzion Bloc [in the West Bank] and another law for a resident of [the coastal city of] Holon.”

In his original op-ed, Cabel argued that once annexed, master building plans should be drafted for the blocs in order to legalize unlawfully built homes and allow for the full development of those communities.

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.”

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.

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