Gabbay’s New Labour echoes British politics

The leader of Israel’s left is following in Tony Blair’s footsteps


Three months after Avi Gabbay’s surprise election as the new leader Israel’s Labour Party, he continues to send shockwaves through the Israeli left.

This week, it was a series of appearances in which he expressed his intentions to try and avoid the eviction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and said that should he win the next election, he would not include the Arab Joint List in his coalition.

While some in the party, and to the left of it, have attacked Mr Gabbay for taking a rightward shift, the truth is that he has not deviated from Labour’s policy.

No Labour government has ever included the Arab nationalist and Communist parties, which are the main components of the Joint List. Neither has any Labour prime minister since 1967 dismantled a settlement across the Green Line.

All the evictions carried out by Israel – from Sinai, the Gaza Strip, and parts of the West Bank – have been executed by Likud governments or, in one case, by the now-defunct centrist Kadima party.

And yet, there was something rather blunt about Mr Gabbay’s statements and the way he repeated them over the space of a few days. This was no coincidence: he is very clearly staking out the centre ground in Israeli politics.

In his victory speech in July, he said that Labour should offer Israel “leadership that will take care of Dimona (in the Negev desert) and not just Amona (a West Bank outpost).”

He supports the two-state solution and has promised a government led by him would not build in the isolated settlements. But the commitment not to include the non-Zionist Joint List in a coalition and his support for “creative solutions” – which would allow Israel not to evict settlements in the future – is also a clear play for the votes of the “soft right.”

The political arithmetic is clear. The Zionist Union electoral alliance, of which Labour is the main component, currently has only 24 Knesset seats. To win an election, Mr Gabbay needs both to attract voters from the centrist Yesh Atid, from center-right Kulanu and from Likud.

Mr Gabbay has spent time in recent months with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and believes that the way to electoral victory lies in transforming his party in to an Israeli version of Mr Blair’s centrist “New Labour”.

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