Newly elected Labor leader Avi
Gabbay declared Tuesday the campaign to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “begins today.”
“We need to bring together all of the capabilities we’ve amassed and use them in our real challenge against the Likud and Netanyahu,” Gabbay said in a press conference at his campaign headquarters in Tel Aviv.
Seeking to restore unity to the fractured Labor Party, Gabbay declared, “There is no such thing as the Gabbay camp, there’s no such thing as every person and his people. We’re going to work together to win in the next elections.”
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Setting goals for the future, Gabbay said “We need to get to at least 100,000 registered voters in the next elections. Period. It can’t
be that the Labor Party, which aspires to govern—and we will govern—goes to elections with (only) 52,000 registered voters.”
Gabbay later spoke to Ynet about his positions and policies. “My positions are very clear and are in line with those of the Labor Party: Two states for two peoples, a clear socio-economic social-democratic policy, and the need to safeguard the Supreme Court,” he said.
Gabbay believes in the concept of a welfare state. “Welfare state is not a swear word. We need to create sources of funding for the weaker groups in the population and improve the public system, the one that gives services to citizens,” he said. “We need to put them at the top of our list of priorities.”
To create the budget for this, he wants to encourage growth and then give the benefits of this growth “in a fair manner” to “weaker parts of society.” This includes “immediately increasing disability benefits as well as benefits for the elderly.” In addition, “we need to improve young couples’ ability to live here without being afraid of life. To give services which befit a welfare state.”
“A state needs to take responsibility for the lives of its residents,” he stressed. “Netanyahu’s views are that each should live his life and get by on his own. If you can’t manage that, it’s your problem. I’m saying the opposite.”
Gabbay believes the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem need to be returned to the Palestinian Authority. “They’re called Jerusalem, but they’re not really Jerusalem. These are isolated areas and villages that can be returned without hurting security… there are also quite a few of those in the Ramallah area, in Area B.”
The bottom line, however, was that “Jerusalem will remain united in any scenario. There can be no negotiations over that,” he insisted.
He did speak of the need for Israel to initiate moves with regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We need to promote moves and create dialogue between the leaders, and that is something we’re missing.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, he said, “is definitely a partner,” adding that he would speak to “anyone who can advance this matter.”
Gabbay was meeting with his campaign staff to “draw conclusions from the second round of the Labor leadership primary and discuss work plans to replacing Netanyahu.”
Speaking to press outside his home earlier in the day, Gabbay said he was “glad we were able to bring new hope to Israel. We need to work hard to make it happen.”
The newcomer went on to say he was getting messages of support “from people of all (political) camps, including ultra-Orthodox and Likud voters… Everything we’re going to do today is for the good of the State of Israel.”
The former minister, who left Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu Party only to now take over the Labor Party, was not elected to the Knesset and will therefore not be able to take over the role of opposition leader from outgoing Labor chairman Isaac Herzog.
Gabbay will meet Tuesday evening with Herzog, who backed his rival Amir Peretz in the second round of the primaries, to discuss the matter.
Ahead of the second round, Gabbay said he would offer Herzog to stay on as opposition leader, a statement he repeated in his victory speech on Monday night.
Labor MK Stav Shaffir, who backed Gabbay in the primary, welcomed the results, telling Ynet on Tuesday that “starting today, the party is leading on a new path: a real, combative opposition that presents an alternative to the Netanyahu government, which has been dragging the country for years towards a complete lack of leadership and destructive decision making.”
She mentioned that Gabbay, who served as the environmental protection minister in Netanyahu’s government, “resigned because of his integrity after realizing what is really going on there, and moved to the Labor Party, completely relating to its positions.”
MK Michal Biran, who also supported Gabbay’s leadership bid, dismissed criticism on Gabbay’s main positions on social and economic issues. “If I wanted to be completely social-democratic, I would have stayed in the commune. I entered politics to change policies,” she said.
MK Revital Swid, who supported Amir Peretz, said that while she was disappointed of the loss, “you can’t help but wake up and look at the positive things as well,” adding the vote for Gabbay proves the party members wanted something new, “to start from scratch, we saw a party awakening.”
MK Nachman Shai, also of Peretz’s camp, said Peretz accepted the loss, while at the same time he was also determined to keep going. “Can he work with Avi Gabbay? They’ll sit to discuss things. Politicians know how to live in peace with friends and colleagues and quickly analyze the situation. He’ll be there, because he believes in what needs to be done now.”
Coalition chairman MK David Bitan, of Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party, dismissed Gabbay’s election. “Well done to him for winning, they must have wanted a change, didn’t believe any of the existing leaders, including the MKs. But beyond that, he can’t defeat us, so what difference does it make?” he said.
“The question is what he’s done and will do, and what the party he represents will do,” Bitan opined. “Within two years, Gabbay will be abandoned. The registered voters chose him, and you’ll kill him along the way.”
Moran Azulay, Itay Blumenthal and Attila Somfalvi contributed to this report.