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ISRAEL'S LABOR PARTY AT FATEFUL CROSSROADS

Avi Gabay, Amir Peretz (photo credit: official Facebook pages of Avi Gabay & Amir Peretz

By the time you read this article, Israel's Zionist Union (old Labor) will have elected its new party leader. Over fifty thousand Laborites will have determined whether newcomer Avi Gabay or old-timer Amir Peretz will take the helm from Yitzhak Herzog, who lost badly in the recent primary after leading the party into near oblivion.

Full disclosure: early on, Isracast took the position that only Gabay had the slightest chance of defeating Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu if he is the Likud candidate in the next general election slated for no later than Nov. 15th, 2019.

Dear readers: if Gabay does not win the run-off with Peretz on July 10th, maybe you should stop reading this article because it's no longer relevant. But if Gabay has become Labor's new leader, get ready for some brainstorming! So, ring out the old, ring in the new!

Gabay quit Kahlon's 'Kulanu' party and jumped ship for Labor.

Gabay, aged 50, is a top-flight business administrator, the son of a poor Moroccan family who earned two university degrees and went on to become a millionaire in private business. He then quit to enter politics and was enlisted by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, becoming a cabinet minister in Bibi's government. However, after only a year he quit the cabinet in protest over Bibi's firing of Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon in order to replace him with Avigdor Lieberman. Furthermore Gabay, unlike Kahlon, opposed Bibi's first controversial gas deal with Noble Energy, calling it a 'bad deal'. In fact, it was later revised on better terms for Israel.

Eventually, Gabay quit Kahlon's 'Kulanu' party and jumped ship for Labor. (One analyst says Kahlon now perceives Gabay as a 'traitor'). But Gabay swiftly became a rising star in Labor as a straight shooter, gaining a reputation for presenting new ideas and not just spouting old slogans. Despite his acquired wealth, Gabay has not forgotten his humble beginnings and has attacked Bibi's growing capitalist approach that encourages the rich getting richer and the poor, poorer. (For example, after nine years at the helm, many young couples cannot afford to buy an apartment, whereas rent has skyrocketed and one out of every three children is living in poverty). Gabay, formerly a senior official in the Finance Ministry, says he has done the figures and he has solutions. This also applies to revamping the public service by making it far more efficient without firing employees and on and on.

There is no question that Gabay is strong on domestic politics and economy but he is soft on foreign affairs and defense due to his lack of experience.

There is no question that Gabay is strong on domestic politics and economy but he is soft on foreign affairs and defense due to his lack of experience. (In the IDF, he served as a major in the Intelligence Corps). Gabay favors the two-state solution and is opposed to Israeli building outside the 'settlement blocs' on the West Bank that presumably will remain part of Israel in any future agreement with the Palestinians.

New Labor leader needs a mix of Rabin & Begin...

Now a very personal reflection: On Thursday, Nov 2nd, 1995, I personally interviewed Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin for the English News of Israel's Channel 1 TV network. It turned out to be the last interview with the late Prime Minister, who was assassinated two days later at the Tel Aviv peace rally. (The interview is on Isracast and can be found under 'Rabin's Last Say!'). Rabin stressed the need for 'separation' with the Palestinians in Judea-Samaria and Gaza. At the same time, Rabin also stressed the strategic need for adequate security arrangements for Israel in any future peace agreement with the Palestinians. In our view, Gabay will do well to stress that he will follow in the footsteps on Yitzhak Rabin. Moreover, he should also adopt a key element of the approach of none other than the venerated Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who forged that dramatic peace accord with Egypt's President Anwar Sadat. Contrary to his hard-line approach on giving back territory, Begin accepted Sadat's demand 'for every grain of sand!' However, Begin also demanded and got an iron-clad defense concession from the Egyptian leader. Although Begin returned every inch of the Sinai Peninsula to Cairo and withdrew all IDF forces to behind the international border with Egypt, he also insisted the actual defensive border with Egypt would be along the Suez Canal, 150 kilometers away! This meant that Egyptian military forces such as tanks and artillery could not be stationed in Sinai. This supplied Israel with a zone of strategic depth that would allow the Jewish state time to mobilize its reserves if Egypt were to break peace treaty and again threaten Israel from Sinai. (The Egyptian Army forces that are currently operating in Sinai against Daesh do so in full cooperation with the IDF).

So Gabay (or Peretz) should now declare that he will adopt the approaches of both Rabin and Begin when it comes to negotiations with the Palestinians.

So Gabay (or Peretz) should now declare that he will adopt the approaches of both Rabin and Begin when it comes to negotiations with the Palestinians. It may not go over well with Palestinian President Abbas, who demands a total Israeli withdrawal back to the old 1967 Green Line with not a single IDF soldier or settler left in the West Bank. (In 2006, Israel did just that in Gaza and has been taking rocket fire and terror attacks from there ever since).

No matter who wins the Labor contest, the new Sephardic leader will be faced with the daunting task of persuading a large number of Sephardic voters to cross the great political divide from Likud to Labor. Ever since Ehud Barak beat Bibi in 1999, a majority of Sephardic voters have been voting for the Right wing parties. This despite the fact that they make up the majority of low-income earners and the Likud conducts a capitalist ideology. This can be explained by the fact that Likud takes a tougher stand on the Palestinian question. Many Sephardic Israelis say the Palestinians will never accept the Jewish state and will exploit every opportunity to annihilate it. After the successive Arab wars in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, 2006, and the unrelenting terror campaign along the way, there is no denying they do have a point. But on the other hand, once Egypt and Jordan proved they were sincerely ready to make peace, Israel jumped at the chance, be it Labor or Likud. But the Labor Party has foundered on the reef of the Oslo Accord of 1993 that promised a Palestinian state, yet the Palestinians have continued their terror tactics to this very day. On the positive side, West Bank President Abbas has instructed his Palestinian Security Force to prevent terror attacks on Israel. It's a mixed bag. The new Labor Party leader will have to rekindle not only a new Israeli hope for peace but also be met with a convincing Palestinian response in favor of peace.



 

David Essing

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