Avi Gabbay, the leader of Israel's centre-left Labour party, delivers his victory speech after winning the Labour party primary runoff, at an event in Tel Aviv, Israel July 10, 2017..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not have to resign over the “expensive gifts affair,” unless he gets indicted by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay said Tuesday, in his latest surprising statement.
Gabbay started off the week by making headlines when he said at a Shabbat cultural event in Beersheba that he would not sit in a coalition with the Joint (Arab) List. On Sunday, the leader of the Israeli Left told a crowd in Dimona that he was not sure if there was a partner on the Palestinian side.
He then caused a political storm on Monday when Channel 2 aired a clip from an interview in which he promised that as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians, settlements would not have to be evacuated.
In a clip from the interview broadcast on Tuesday night, Gabbay spoke about the ongoing criminal investigations of Netanyahu.
“Netanyahu should admit that he made mistakes,” Gabbay said.
“I don’t think he has to quit over the story of the cigars, but he must take responsibility. If he is indicted though, he would have to quit – he can’t be prime minister.”
After facing criticism from his No. 2 in the Zionist Union, Tzipi Livni, Gabbay backtracked on his comments about settlements overnight, sending a clarification to members of the Zionist Union in a private WhatsApp group.
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“Friends, the Channel 2 story is garnering lots of reactions, and I want to make it clear that I stand behind what I said, but not behind the headline and the framing of my words,” Gabbay wrote. “In every meeting conference and interview, I stress my commitment to pursuing a peace agreement based on the two-state solution, while maintaining Israel’s security, and the clear distinction between the settlement blocs and isolated settlements. I believe now is not the time to draw the borders of future negotiations and the recipe for the solution of the conflict, particularly the issue of immediate evacuation of all the settlements, and there is no point in committing to that path as a starting point for talks.”
Livni, who once oversaw the negotiations with the PLO, said that she wanted to “make it clear” that the statements made by Gabbay to Channel 2 were “the stance of the chairman of the Labor Party alone, and are not the stance of the Zionist Union or the movement.”
“Our vision,” she emphasized, “isn’t to evacuate settlements but to move toward peace. I wish we won’t have to evacuate settlements, and it’s clear that we will preserve the blocs where most settlers live as part of Israel. But a political negotiation that would lead to an agreement on a separation with a border is more complex, and you can’t promise everyone that they can stay in their homes [within the bounds of a potential Palestinian state].”
MK Nachman Shai took to Twitter to express his disagreement with Gabbay’s words. He wrote, “We will have to separate from the Palestinians; we will have to evacuate settlements with pain and sorrow.”
MK Ksenia Svetlova joined the chorus, saying that “only a political settlement and separation from the Palestinians will ensure the existence of the State of Israel and a Jewish, democratic state. We have to carefully preserve what we can preserve and if not, we will lose everything.”
While Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On slammed Gabbay for “groveling to the settlers,” Gabbay received praise from the leaders of the Likud.
“There is no reason to attack Gabbay,” said former interior minister Gideon Sa’ar. “Our worldviews are different, but it is encouraging to see increasing recognition that evacuating Jewish communities is no longer an ethical or practical option.”Joy Bernard contributed to this report.
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