With his reserved manner, soporific speaking style, and lack of
experience in national affairs, Amram Mitzna seems like an unlikely
person to charge up Israeli politics.
But analysts say the rapid rise of the tall, angular mayor of
Haifa to the status of prime ministerial hopeful stems largely from
the content of his positions: He has staked out the only clear
alternative to the hard-line policies of the government since Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon's election a year and a half ago.
"It is obvious that by force alone, nothing can be solved," Mr.
Mitzna told a group of middle-aged and elderly left-wingers in Tel
Aviv last Friday.
Mitzna, a retired general, wears a salt-and-pepper beard that
dates back to the eve of the 1967 war, when, he says, he and army
buddies resolved not to shave until there was peace. With the
Palestinian uprising about to enter its third year, there seems
scant prospect it will come off any time soon.
"Over the last year, hundreds of citizens and soldiers were
killed in Israel despite the fact that we have been using against
the terror all of our strength, with the best army commanders, and
led by a man who termed himself 'Mr. Security,' " he said.
Mitzna declined to take questions from the press, instead
fielding softballs from the sympathetic group that gathers every
Friday to commemorate assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, his
patron in the army and later in politics. He said that Rabin's
decision to sign the Oslo agreement was "not a mistake, it was right
to try to end the cycle of hostility. But the process was derailed
after Yitzhak's murder."
As he shook hands with his listeners afterwards, an accordion was
playing the Hebrew song "See How Good It Will be Next Year."
Hope for the doves?
Mitzna's candidacy, declared two weeks ago, offers a test of
whether the dovish agenda can be revived in today's Israel, where
the prevailing view, articulated repeatedly by the government, is
that there is no one to negotiate with on the Palestinian side.
Mitzna says that if elected, he would immediately open talks with
the Palestinian Authority, which the government has shunned on the
grounds that this would reward terrorism and that no diplomacy is
possible while Yasser Arafat remains the Palestinian leader.
"I have no blind faith in the Palestinians, but let us speak to
one another honestly, let us look at each other in the eyes, let us
give it one more chance, a real chance," he says. If negotiations
fail, he says, Israel will establish an eastern security border
unilaterally, withdrawing from most of the West Bank.
The mayor is unabashedly clear that under an agreement or in the
event of a unilateral delineation of Israel's eastern border, the 35-
year-old Jewish settlement enterprise in the Occupied Territories
will have to come to an end. "The friction with the Palestinians is
a weight dragging us into the abyss," he says. "We must break free
of it. We must tell the 200,000 people who settled in the
territories as part of a national mission that the mission today is
to return home."
'A new face'
Mitzna attended a military academy for high school and was
drafted into the army in 1963. There he spent three decades and
fought in three wars, in addition to being the general in charge of
the West Bank at the outbreak of the first intifada, when he was
known among Palestinians for tough tactics including house
demolitions and expulsions. Mitzna says that the post led him to the
conclusion that force alone would not solve the conflict and that
occupying Palestinian land was harming Israel's values. …