TEL AVIV – In a dramatic departure from the party’s traditional position, Labor chief Avi Gabbay said that any deal with the Palestinians he would be involved in would not include evacuating West Bank settlements.
“I won’t evacuate settlements in the framework of a peace deal,” said Gabbay in an interview with Channel 2. “If you are making peace, why do you need to evacuate?”
“I think the dynamic and terminology that have become commonplace here, that ‘if you make peace — evacuate,’ is not in fact correct,” he added.
“If you make a peace deal, it is possible to find solutions that don’t require evacuating.”
His stance was compared to that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has also pledged not to evacuate any settlements in future negotiations – a comparison Gabbay categorically rejected, saying, “There is a huge gap between those who at least want to get there [to a peace deal] and those who don’t want to get there.”
Traditionally, heads of the left-leaning Labor party – including prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak – have been willing to give up swaths of land comprising most of the West Bank settlements in so-called land-for-peace deals, all of which were ultimately rejected by the Palestinians.
Gabbay’s remarks were also a break from his own stance during his election campaign, which included the slogan “Dimona not Amona” to represent his party’s focus on promoting the development of Israeli towns like Dimona and rejecting settlement outposts like Amona. Yet according to the Times of Israel, since Gabbay was elected head of the party it has undergone a dramatic shift in a reported bid to poach centrist voters from the ruling Likud party. Gabbay recently vowed that he would not agree to be in a government with the Joint (Arab) List — the 13-member Arab Knesset party, which is known for taking anti-Israel stances.
“We will not sit with them, unequivocally,” Gabbay said on Saturday. “I do not see anything that connects us to them or allows us to be in the same government with them.”
Meanwhile, the Palestinians were enraged by a government decision Monday to grant building permits for 31 housing units in the Jewish area of Hebron – the first time in 15 years that Jews have been given permission to build there. The move is believed to be in response to a recent resolution by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that lists Hebron’s Old City as an endangered site in the state of “Palestine.”