Labor Chair Slams Fellow Left-wing Leader Over ICC Remarks: 'Israel Doesn't Commit War Crimes'

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Labor chairwoman Merav Michaeli speaking at the conference.
Labor chairwoman Merav Michaeli speaking at the conference.

Labor Party chairwoman Merav Michaeli on Wednesday expressed opposition to the expected investigation of alleged Israeli war crimes by the International Criminal Court, and criticized Meretz party head Nitzan Horowitz for blaming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the settlement movement and Israel’s right wing for the investigation.

“It’s really not good. I don’t think the court has the authority to investigate Israel,” Michaeli said, adding that “Israel does not commit war crimes. It complies with international law governing war, unequivocally. Israel has a strong, independent legal establishment that faces terrible attacks, but that’s what protects us from these things.”

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She was speaking at a conference on Israeli national security organized by Haaretz and Commanders for Israel’s Security and held as a virtual event.

Michaeli also said that if Hamas were to recognize the State of Israel, Israel should be open to discussions with it.

“Ways must be found to demilitarize Gaza, to cultivate and develop the Strip and make it a completely different place. Can that be done today in negotiations with Hamas? I’m not sure,” she said.

“What concerns me is Israel’s interest, and that is to reach borders with maximum security and be free to deal with its affairs instead of conflict. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has for 52 years absorbed all of our energy and attention,” said Michaeli.

She did not rule out the continued development of West Bank settlements in the so-called settlement blocs, but stressed that she will neither support nor join a coalition that allocates funding for settlements outside these blocs.

Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett (left) and Haaretz's Amos Harel.

Bennett and Sa’ar: Netanyahu weakened Israeli security

Yamina chairman and former Defense Minister Naftali Bennett criticized Netanyahu’s security policies in the Gaza Strip and along Israel’s northern border. In a discussion with Haaretz military reporter Amos Harel at the conference, Bennett said than “on the Lebanese border Netanyahu inherited Hezbollah with a few dozen rockets and will bequeath Hezbollah with a few hundred thousand rockets and missiles.”

Continuing with the theme, Bennett said that during the prime minister’s time in power, Hamas grew from a small, bold terror organization into one with horrific power. “Netanyahu’s entire understanding of deterrence is defensive, and that’s the exact opposite of the ethos of the Israel Defense Forces. He is bequeathing a situation of fearlessness in the hearts of the enemy.”

The head of the New Hope party, Gideon Sa’ar, also denounced Netanyahu’s policies. In a conversation with Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn, Sa’ar said: “I think the myth built up around Netanyahu being successful with defense and foreign policy is largely a fiction. At the end of the day, whoever succeeds Netanyahu as prime minister will inherit security issues that are much graver than those that were passed on to Netanyahu.”

Sa’ar said Netanyahu’s policies facilitated the growth of Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad and that he failed to block Iran’s nuclear program. “Is the home front prepared for the next war? In my opinion, it is not,” Sa’ar said. “Do speeches necessarily stop nuclear enrichment? One can doubt that.”

Religious Zionism chairman Bezalel Smotrich.

Smotrich: Figures on the right will do the left’s work

Religious Zionism party chairman Bezalel Smotrich denounced Bennett and Sa’ar at the conference, saying that they planned to ally their parties with the left-wing bloc. “In nearly every poll, the right has close to 80 Knesset seats,” Smotrich said in an interview with Haaretz journalist Ravit Hecht. “The right has a large majority among the Israeli public but there are figures on the right who are about to do the left’s work for it and bring it back to the centers of decision-making through the front door.”

Smotrich said that while he has a lot of criticism about Netanyahu, “When you want to advance policy, I support a coalition of all the parties in the nationalist camp.” He said the issues of the Israeli right go beyond the question of a Palestinian state or Judea and Samaria, to include Jewish Zionist identity, the Judaization of the Negev and the Galilee, and passing a law that would allow the Knesset to override the High Court of Justice when it strikes down as unconstitutional Knesset legislation.

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