A vi Gabbay’s meteoric rise to the head of the Zionist Union party began in May 2016, when he quit Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party and left his cabinet position as environmental minister in the Netanyahu government to protest the prime minister’s appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as defense minister.

Gabbay’s political hiatus was short-lived. In December 2016, he announced he was joining the Zionist Union (Labor Party), and won the number-one position in that party’s July 2017 primary.

Since winning Labor’s top seed, Gabbay has ruffled feathers among the party faithful, saying he sees no reason to evacuate settlements in a future peace agreement with the Palestinians, and with a controversial statement that the Labor Party has “forgotten what it is to be Jews.” He topped it all off by saying he would work to oust Arab MK Zouheir Bahloul from the party list for skipping the Knesset’s event marking the 70th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.

This week, he made his first US visit as Labor chairman, appearing at the Saban Forum as well as meeting Jewish community leaders in New York and Washington. I met him just before he returned to Israel, at a time when the latest polls show that the Avi Gabbay bump that Labor received in early polls after his election has worn off.


In recent weeks we gave seen your party drop in the polls, while Yesh Atid gained. How come?

When you conduct a poll on a day when everyone is against the chareidim [referring to the anti-draft demonstrations and secular backlash to MK Litzman’s tough stance on public desecration of Shabbos] it’s clear that it will serve Yesh Atid, not us. We’ve come to unite Am Yisrael, not to break it or foment hatred within the nation. The more time that passes, the more we’ll continue to rise, and I’m certain that I will be the one to form the next government.


You’re bringing a new approach that sometimes boomerangs within your own camp. How do you relate to the opposition to you from inside Labor?

I say what I believe. Throughout the primaries I never hid my beliefs. My fellow Labor members voted for me because they understood that I’m the only one who truly puts victory as a central goal, and not as just another topic. In that respect, I’m happy. People have a hard time changing traditional stances. I understand that, but they’ll get used to it.


What do you think about moving the US embassy to Jerusalem?

I am certainly in favor. Jerusalem is our capital, no two ways about it. That’s a decision that will always be right.


How do you see the efforts to renew negotiations with the Palestinians?

Everyone is waiting to see what Trump will do. I truly hope he and his team are serious. I got the impression that they are very committed, that they will come up with something out-of-the-box. Look, a long-term peace agreement is what will guarantee Israel’s security. It’s what we need for the future of our children and grandchildren. Unfortunately, in recent years, we’ve seen only a blame game instead of a genuine diplomatic process. The time has come to stop that. As prime minister, I will insist that the Palestinian Authority halt all incitement and work toward Israeli interests, to create new hope in the region.

When our kids open the history books, they’ll see that the chapter on the last decade will be very short, because nothing happened during this time. We need to begin with trust-building, on both sides, while partnering with other Arab countries in the region. Such steps include stopping incitement on the Palestinian side, and on the Israeli side, halting construction outside the settlement blocs. At the same time, we can work to reduce the Palestinian population currently under Israeli civilian control, if that’s feasible from a security standpoint.

Beyond security, a peace agreement is worth $18 billion annually to the Israeli economy. That’s massive. It means, for instance, that we could do away entirely with VAT; it means we could lower the cost of living by 15%. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 688)