Avi Gabbay, the new leader of Israel's centre-left Labor party, delivers his victory speech after winning the Labor party primary runoff, at an event in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
Avi Gabbay’s election as Labor Party leader is “good news” for all Israeli citizens because it inspires hope to change the government, a leading Arab politician said on Wednesday.
Aida Touma-Sliman, an MK from the Hadash component of the Joint List, told The Jerusalem Post: “There is no doubt the election of Gabbay gave some hope for many people that there is a chance to change this government, and this is good news for all the citizens of Israel, and Arabs might get benefit out of it.”
Gabbay, a former minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet who joined the Labor Party only six months ago, defeated Amir Peretz in Monday’s party primary. In the platform he distributed during the campaign, Gabbay stressed both security and readiness to negotiate with the Palestinians.
“This conflict is solvable,” Gabbay wrote on his website. “To advance a solution to it, courageous and determined leadership is necessary, leadership that doesn’t involve itself in spins, incitement and sowing divisions between sectors of the nation, but rather cares about the state.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called Gabbay on Wednesday evening to congratulate him on his victory, according to a Labor Party statement. According to the statement, Gabbay urged Abbas to meet face-toface with Netanyahu and called on him to build trust by removing from Palestinian textbooks content that incites to violence or hatred.
Gabbay wins Israeli Labour Party leadership (credit: REUTERS)
Referring to Gabbay’s May 2016 resignation from the cabinet when hardline Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman was appointed defense minister, Touma-Sliman said: “I respected that he quit the government. Liberman was a red line for him, which is good. I think he’s committed at least to some ideas of social justice but he has to deliver and to show good intentions so we can be wiser when we talk about our impressions of him.”
In the view of Meretz MK Esawi Freij, “There is some cautious hope, there are also some question marks. If Gabbay will be a copy of the Right, I don’t want him. Whether he constitutes an alternative in favor of discussion with the Palestinians instead of freezing [the peace process] we will see in the coming days. Meanwhile, I’m giving him a chance.
“He has to propose a formula on how to catalyze dialogue with the Palestinians. There is no alternative. Essentially, I believe he will do this but I will be closely following the team that surrounds him,” he said.
“He is a new figure and young. Apparently he brings the people in the Labor party hope. I really hope that Labor with Gabbay will be able to set itself in motion and return to being an alternative for governing, something it has stopped being in recent years.
“If he draws away votes from the other parties in the center-left bloc than he will not have accomplished anything,” Freij added. “But if he succeeds in bringing new votes into the bloc than he is a worthy choice.”
In his platform, Gabbay wrote that the Jordan Valley must be retained for security reasons in any peace deal. But he also proposed handing over Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority and came out against spending on isolated settlements.
He has said he favors land swaps that would leave large settlement blocs in place.
MK Zuheir Bahloul (Zionist Union), who backed Gabbay in the primary, says he advised him to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and “restore diplomatic sanity and proceed by means of dialogue with the Palestinian side.”
“I found in him a responsive listener. He is very serious about these issues. People are trying to depict him as a rightist but he is not a rightist. Everyone has a past, but the most important thing is how he deals with the present and the future. If he takes courage and will be the man that I feel he is, than we are heading to a new era.”
Bahloul termed Gabbay “a figure with political courage, integrity and values.”
Not all Arab political figures are impressed by Gabbay. Mtanes Shehadeh, secretary-general of the hardline Balad Party in the Joint List, said: “From our vantage point it doesn’t matter who was chosen to lead the Labor Party. The main thing is whether he will be ready to make a substantive change in the world view of the party towards the Arab population by recognizing us as a native minority, recognizing our collective rights and declaring he is ready to change the regime of the state to a state of all its citizens.
Gabbay doesn’t want to do this. In the end, he is Labor Party mainstream and there is a party platform that he will act in accordance with.
“It may be that on the issue of the occupation he will be less extremist than Netanyahu but that doesn’t substantially change the reality,” Shehadeh said.