Former Labor chairman Isaac Herzog will remain the head of the opposition, he announced on Wednesday at a ceremony at Labor Party headquarters in Tel Aviv with new party leader Avi Gabbay.At meetings on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, Gabbay persuaded Herzog to accept the post, which Gabbay could not take for himself because he is not a Knesset member. The opposition leader is entitled to monthly security briefings from the prime minister and the right to speak after him in the Knesset and at state events. He is given constant protection from the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), a large office, a fancy car, and a higher salary than other MKs. Herzog thanked Gabbay for the offer and vowed to do everything possible to help him succeed.Gabbay said at the event that he saw the Labor leadership as a great responsibility and that he would do all he could to build Labor into a strong party that can win the next election.“I was happy to see that we have gone up in the polls but I was not surprised because I feel a spark of electricity and the growing support for the party,” he said.Polls broadcast on Tuesday night predicted that if an election were held now, the Zionist Union, which includes Labor, would pass Yesh Atid and become the second largest party after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.
Polls that were broadcast on Wednesday were less positive for Gabbay.A Panels Research Poll taken for Walla! News found that the Likud would win 25 seats, Yesh Atid 21, and Labor 19, if elections would take place now. A poll taken for the radio station Kol Barama predicted 29 seats for Likud, 21 for Yesh Atid and 19 for Labor.“We will return Labor to be the party where all Israelis feel at home,” Gabbay said. “We will go to every city and community in the country, including places that have not voted Labor in the past. When people see that, they will realize that we are a party that cares for its citizens and can win elections.”Gabbay did not take questions and ignored a bottle of wine that had been opened for the festive ceremony. He formally took over the office at Labor headquarters where Herzog worked for the last four years.Maariv reported that Labor officials were trying to obtain permission from the Knesset for Gabbay to have an office in the parliament.He is expected to address weekly Zionist Union faction meetings alongside Herzog, MK Tzipi Livni and new Labor faction chairman Hilik Bar.Unlike Herzog, Labor leadership candidates Amir Peretz and Erel Margalit both said that they intend to maintain their respective camps within Labor and continue to build their own support within the party.Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas called Gabbay to congratulate him.Gabbay thanked him and called on him to meet with Netanyahu face-to-face and deal with issues like building trust via small steps, such as removing textbooks with incitement from the Palestinian curriculum, and removing roadblocks that prevent freedom of movement of Palestinians.“Peace is not made in international conference or regional conventions,” Gabbay said.“It must start by building trust and personal relations between the sides.”Jamie Halper contributed to this report.
Gabbay wins Israeli Labour Party leadership (credit: REUTERS)