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)
Zionist Union party chairman Avi Gabbay clarified his position on settlement evacuations Monday night after comments he made in a Channel 2 television interview sparked outrage by many on the left of the political dial in Israel.
Zionist Union MKs openly distanced themselves from Gabbay, the head of the union, the Labor Party and what is called "the peace camp" after he promised publicly that settlements would not have to be evacuated as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians should it be orchestrated by him.
Gabbay spoke in an interview with Channel 2, he referred specifically to retaining settlements that are not in blocs, including Eli and Ofra.
“There is no reason to evacuate settlements in a peace agreement,” Gabbay said on Monday night. “If there is peace, then why evacuate? The dynamics of peacemaking that would require evacuation may not actually be correct. In a peace agreement, solutions can be found that do not require evacuations.”
When asked what the difference was between his views and those of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Gabbay said he, unlike Netanyahu, “wants to make peace.”
Gabbay backtracked on his comments overnight, sending a clarification to members of the Zionist Union in a private WhatsApp group.
"Friends, the channel 2 story is garnering lots of reactions and I want to make clear that I stand behind what I said, but not behind the headline and the framing of my words. 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 blocks 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," Gabbay wrote in the message.
Reacting to Gabbay's original statement, the MKs who spoke out all reiterated their commitment to a two-state solution and to a negotiation that required compromises from the two sides.
MK Tzipi Livni, who once oversaw the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, said that she wanted to "make it clear" that the statements by Gabbay 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 contrarily, "isn't to evacuate settlements but to move towards 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 could 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, writing: "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."
Speaking to political activists after the interview on Channel 2 was aired, Gabbay did not back down from his comments. "Friends... I would like to clarify that I stand behind what I said but not behind how it was headlined and framed [in the interview]. In every meeting, convention and interview I emphasize my commitment to moving persistently towards peace accords, on the basis of the two-state solution while preserving Israel's security and the distinct differentiation between the settlement blocs and solitary settlements (where we will stop construction)," the Zionist Union head explained.
"Contrarily, there's no point at this stage to sketch out the borders of the negotiations and the recipe for the solution, including the issue of an immediate evacuation of all the settlements. And there's no place for committing to that as a preliminary statement at this stage. I say and stress at every opportunity that any solution that would lead us to a solution is worthy of being examined and considered. What was published today doesn't differ from my usual line, and to my dismay it was framed in an exaggerated way."
Peace Now responded that Gabbay was mistaken and was misleading the public. The organization said that rather than offer empty slogans, he should tell Israelis clearly that only a peace agreement leading to a two-state solution can end the conflict, and that there was no such agreement without evacuating settlements.
MK Itzik Shmuly said splitting the country into two states was in Israel’s interest because of demographic reasons. He warned that without separation, his generation would have to choose between a Jewish dictatorship and an Arab state.
Gabbay, who in the past said he would not invest in sidewalks in West Bank settlements, raised an uproar on Saturday when he said that he would not form a government with the Joint (Arab) List.