Last week was Avi Gabbay’s week. If his views were unclear until now, it seems the new Labor chairman is finally shaking up the party. He may not be a seasoned politician, but seasoned politicians aren’t characterized by leadership or independent thought. They know how to take care of themselves. They don’t generate change.
Gabbay’s two statements—that there’s nothing connecting him to the Joint List, so he won’t sit in the same coalition with the Arab party, and that peace doesn’t require an evacuation of settlements—stirred a row in the left-wing camp, both the Zionist and the less Zionist, although he stated the obvious. Assuming Gabbay won’t be deterred by the criticism, what we are seeing here is the beginning of an interesting move.
The Zionist left, we should remember, has moved further to the left in recent years. When Labor Party members defend radical left-wing organizations, under the guise of freedom of speech, freedom of speech is clearly just an excuse. None of them spoke with similar empathy about Lehava, with arguments from the freedom of speech department. Only recently, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai participated in a show organized by the anti-Israel left. That’s how one scores an own goal.
In a healthy democracy, the big parties don’t escape to the margins. The Labor Party doesn’t have to compete for the Joint List’s slot or for Meretz’s slot. It needs the votes of people who support a diplomatic compromise but who vote for the Right because they loathe the Left’s radicalization. Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid understood that a long time ago. He adopted a clear policy, which has been subject to countless slurs, and that’s exactly what pushed many Labor voters and some right-wing voters in his direction. Gabbay possibly, just possibly, understands what the Labor Party should have understood a long time ago, and that’s definitely refreshing news.
How dare you reject a national minority party, Gabbay was asked by Daniel Blatman, a history professor from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who noted that Jewish parties in Poland were rejected by politicians between the two world wars.
What a lousy comparison. Were there people like Knesset Member Hanin Zoabiamong the Jews who were active in Polish politics at the time? Did the Jewish party identify with people working against Poland’s actual existence? Did they preach against Jews joining the Polish army? Did they refer to the recruits as “lepers”?
The right comparison, if you’re already making one, is with the Sudeten German Party (SdP)—a nationalistic, separatist Czech party which became pro-Nazi and operated from within the state against the state’s actual existence. The Joint List isn’t Neo-Nazi, God forbid, but it’s too close to the same patterns of action. It doesn’t want a partnership with the majority. It has trouble condemning anti-state terror. It even refused to sign a surplus-vote agreement with the Jewish Meretz party.
Blatman forgot to say that he is a veteran supporter of the racist party himself, but he attributes racism to those refusing to legitimize the racist party. George Orwell once said that some ideas are so stupid that only an intellectual could believe them. The history professor provided us with further proof of that.
According to the outlines for peace supported by the Labor Party, most settlers are supposed to stay put, as they live within the settlement blocs which will remain under Israeli sovereignty in any future agreement. That leaves us with some 100,000 settlers. One has to be a complete fool to think that the State of Israel is going to evacuate them by repeating the disengagement move. It barely succeeded last time. It won’t happen again.
The outposts were built in a bid to turn the difficulty to evacuate them into an obstacle to any agreement. In order to reach an agreement, therefore, we actually need to remove forced evacuation from the agenda. Gabbay’s statement strips the radical right of its threatening weapon. You don’t want to vacate? Fine. We won’t let you take us hostage, and we won’t let a radical minority won’t force anything on the majority. More than he irritated his friends from in the Left, Gabbay adopted a direction harming the radical right.
And anyway, if and when a peace agreement is signed, god willing, a million and a half Arabs will remain part of Israel. So it won’t be that bad if 100,000 Jews remain within the boundaries of the entity that will exist there, in any kind of agreement. If the State of Israel can contain an Arab minority making up 20 percent of the population, then an Arab entity—either Palestinian or Jordanian-Palestinian—can contain Jews making up two to three percent of its population. It isn’t clear that they will want to stay there, but it is clear that there is no need to enter a forced evacuation trap.
The expansion of the settlement project is a crawling disaster ahead of the creation of a binational state, but the forced evacuation idea is a fantasy we must let go of too. Not in order to thwart an agreement in the future, but in order to increase the chance for an agreement.
Reprinted with author’s permission from YNet News