Israel: Peacenik mayor runs for PM

TEL AVIV – In the lobbies of the Knesset, rumors have made the rounds that the Sharon regime would not last until the end of its term, October 2003, and early general elections might take place. It became obvious, that not one of Sharon’s promises, had been realized, and nobody expects that they will be. The “Peace with Security” for the Israeli people, or the advance of Israel’s economy, are farther away than ever.

Sharon’s promise to eliminate “Palestinian terror” by a policy of military force, has been proven as a failure. People are more afraid than before because of Sharon’s iron-fisted policy against the Palestinians and brutal terror in the Occupied Territories with tanks, missile-firing helicopters, F-16 bombers and assassins. Neither security nor peace are in sight without any political-diplomatic solution to the conflict.

Sharon warned if Labor and Shass would not vote for Finance Minister Silvan Shalom’s proposed state budget, he would resign and announce early elections. Shalom’s budget plan for 2003 was adopted by the Government by a small majority with the Ministers of Labor and Shass Parties voting against.

Sharon’s announcement was made at the same time as a three-hour strike of all civil servants, railway and communication service workers. The strike was the first shot in the labor conflict against the further proposed anti-labor drastic cuts in all social services in Shalom’s budget.

Labor Party “War” (Defense) Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer answered Sharon’s statement by announcing that he would not oppose early elections. He immediately added that as unchallenged party chair, he would be the Labor candidate for Prime Minister.

Ben-Eliezer’s statement should fool nobody. It came in the wake of the sudden rise, of a new candidate to the Labor chair and premiership. When Amram Mitzna, the mayor of Haifa, the third largest city in Israel, said he may challenge Ben-Eliezer, Mitzna’s star rapidly rose in all public opinion polls receiving 40 percent Labor member support, while Ben-Eliezer received 32 percent and Haim Ramon, a third candidate, 17 percent.

Mitzna, a resigned major-general, belongs to the most outspoken “dovish” wing in the Labor Party leadership. He is well-known for his very successful mayoralty in Haifa. Haifa is the only large city with no budgetary debts in Israel. It is known for being a town with a mixed Jewish-Arab population (about 12 percent of its residents are Arab-Palestinians), outstanding for the peaceful coexistence and good relations between its various ethnic and religious communities.

Mitzna officially announced his candidacy August 13 and made no secret about his “dove” viewpoints. He called for immediate renewal of peace talks with the Palestinians and their elected leadership. He stressed that Israel urgently needs a Labor party with an alternative platform to the disastrous policies of Sharon and his right-wing associates.

After Mitzna’s official announcement, the latest public opinion poll among Labor Party members, published by the Ma’ariv daily, Mitzna received 57 percent, Ramon 22, and Ben-Eliezer only 10 percent.

The right-wing are furiously pouring tar and fire against the star-like rise on the political horizon of an outspoken “peacenick” like Mitzna. He is a resigned Major-General, who proposes Israel’s withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders and evacuation of settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

During a meeting, I had three months ago with Mitzna in his city hall office on some UNO business he reminded me, that while serving three years as the commander-in-chief of the army “central front,” and was, among others, responsible for the occupation forces in the West Bank, he became well aware of the plight of the Palestinian population under Israeli military rule. It was then, that he left the army.

He concluded, that only by renewal of negotiations among equals, not only demanding respect for Israel’s national rights, but recognizing and respecting the Palestinian people’s rights, the way out of the current dilemma and bloodshed could be found.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org