Netanyahu the main obstacle to peace, Israeli opposition leader says

Merav Michaeli accuses PM of 'brainwashing' society into right-wing tendencies

Merav Michaeli, leader of the Israeli Labour Party, condemned Benjamin Netanyahu for standing in the way of peace but said there was still a chance of a 'miracle'. AFP
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The leader of Israel's Labour Party Merav Michaeli said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the main obstacle to peace, accusing him of building a right-wing propaganda network that had “brainwashed” Israelis and made any deal with the Palestinians extremely difficult.

Despite the trauma suffered from the fallout of the October 7 attacks by Hamas and the desolation of Gaza, the former transport minister still clings to the hope that the country can “build a better future”.

Speaking of Mr Netanyahu, in an interview with The National Ms Michaeli said: "He’s been the main obstacle to peace, for sure, and he certainly has prevented peace or any political solution in all of his years in politics.

"But that doesn't mean it cannot change."

The Israeli politician launched a stinging attack on Mr Netanyahu’s record in office, saying he had blocked “something positive happening in the region with the Palestinians”.

“One of the reasons for cultivating Hamas was to make sure that there's no peace because that would mean a Palestinian state, which is a big no-no for him."

The Israeli Labour Party, which until 1977 had provided all the country's prime ministers, has always supported the Israel-Palestinian peace process.

But even before the war in Gaza, there was concern Israel had significantly moved to the right, particularly among Jewish youth.

In 30 years in frontline politics, Mr Netanyahu had “built a huge industry of propaganda”, Ms Michaeli said, through which he is “brainwashing Israeli society's minds with a narrative that says the right is good for Jews and the left is good for Arabs”.

The Knesset member said because all Jewish youths have to serve in the Israeli army, most for three years, this has exposed them to Hamas or Hezbollah militants which, in her opinion, has in turn cultivated their right-wing views.

Netanyahu's 'miracle'

The Israeli opposition leader suggested the Prime Minister might still calculate that a peace deal could allow him to remain in office longer. Current polls suggest he would heavily lose in any general election.

Ms Michaeli said: “It’s more likely that he will not go for peace but let's give him the benefit of the doubt, even though he does not deserve any benefit, that maybe a miracle can happen."

With deep distrust opening up between Israeli Jews and Palestinians after the Hamas assault, the path to a peaceful society appears intractable. But Ms Michaeli said the situation was not irreversible.

“Look at Germany and France and remember where they were 75 years ago, after how many years of bloody, horrible conflict – it was unimaginable that it would ever be different," she said.

With “faith and courage” complementing heavy international financing, “you could really pull it off".

She said the two-state solution was a “real, tangible possibility” that could be unilaterally imposed.

“While Netanyahu is opposed, it could be put to Israel as a fact,” she said.

While Israeli society focuses on the 1,200 deaths from the attacks of October 7, with little acknowledgement given to the more than 29,300 Palestinians killed in the Israeli assault, Ms Michaeli said the level of suffering in Gaza could not be dismissed.

But when society had “suffered something so horrible” as the Hamas attacks, “it makes you numb to the hurt of others, you are so sunk in your loss and hurt”, she added.

She criticised Hamas for making “the strategic decision to invest their money in terror, rather than in building” a society.

Updated: February 21, 2024, 10:58 AM