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Settlement withdrawal 'unnecessary' for peace, says key Israeli opposition leader

Avi Gabbay has been accused of 'selling illusions' to Israelis [AFP]

Date of publication: 18 October, 2017

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Labour Party leader accused of pandering to 'impractical' consensus among Israelis about annexing Palestinian land.

The leader of Israel's main opposition party drew widespread criticism on Tuesday after claiming that peace could be achieved without Israeli settlers withdrawing from Palestinian land.

Speaking to Israel's Channel Two on Monday, Labour Party leader Avi Gabbay said that the idea of pulling out of the setttlements as part of peace negotiations is outdated.

"If you make peace why do you need to evict (settlers)? I think that the terminology in which we are accustomed to speak here, by which if you make a peace treaty you evict people are not necessarily right," Gabbay said.

"If you make a peace agreement you can find solutions that don't oblige you to dismantle (settlements)," he said. "You're making peace!"

Israel's Labour Party, which has been led by Gabbay since July, has traditionally supported an independent Palestinian State alongside Israel.

Gabbay spoke again on Tuesday to elaborate on his comments.

"I am in favour of reaching a diplomatic solution which is based on two states for two peoples, where their state is demilitarised," he told Channel Two.

Hagit Ofran, of Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now, said Gabbay was deceiving the public by proposing an outcome that is unachievable.

"It is clear to everybody there will be no agreement without some vacating of settlements," she told AFP.

"He should not be selling illusions to people."

Palestinians have long demanded that Israel end its military occupation and building of settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.

Israel has continued to build and approve settlements for construction despite international condemnation.

Settlement construction has been facilitated by support from a large portion of Israelis who believe that if a peace deal is struck with the Palestinians, settlement areas should be annexed.

On Tuesday, Gabbay echoed this sentiment by saying that Israel needs to "prevent as far as possible eviction of Jews from their homes as we also need to avoid evicting Palestinians from their homes."

According to Avraham Diskin, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Gabbay was attempting to tap into a consensus whic kihh had shifted since Labour's heyday decades ago.

"He simply said something pragmatic which suits the reality and which the majority of the voters believe," he told AFP in Hebrew.

"Perhaps he doesn't believe it himself but he wants to be elected, he wants to be prime minister, so he said what everybody thinks."

Environment Minister Zeev Elkin, of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right wing Likud party, also believed Gabbay's comments were tactical rather than indicating a sea-change in Labour policy.

"He is trying to dress the left in the clothes of the right," Elkin said.

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