- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 21, 2002

TEL AVIV As a young officer in Israel's army, Amram Mitzna was so disgusted by Ariel Sharon's handling of Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon that he handed in a resignation letter, saying he could no longer serve under the defense minister.
Mr. Mitzna stayed on, became a general, and according to TV projections was handily elected to head Israel's dovish opposition Tuesday. That will likely pit him in January elections against Mr. Sharon, now an incumbent prime minister whose 20 months in office have been plagued by escalating violence with the Palestinians.
Mr. Sharon, Mr. Mitzna said, believes in "reliance on force and resolving the problem by forcing the other side to surrender instead of through dialogue. Our positions clashed then, and this is still acute today."
Mr. Sharon himself faces a leadership primary next week, with polls showing him leading his challenger, Foreign Minister and ex-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mr. Mitzna, 57, defeated Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, whose appeal was tarnished by his 20 months as Mr. Sharon's defense minister before he led Labor out of the "unity government" last month, a move that prompted the current election campaign.
Mr. Mitzna said that if he lost the Jan. 28 election, he would not enter another coalition with Mr. Sharon's Likud party unless it was unequivocally prepared to pursue his platform of disengaging from the West Bank and Gaza Strip an unlikely prospect.
In another election day promise, Mr. Mitzna said that if he became prime minister he would unilaterally pull troops and Jewish settlers out of the Gaza Strip and resume negotiations on a far-reaching peace settlement in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
Mr. Mitzna said he would negotiate with whomever the Palestinians chose a departure from the position of Mr. Sharon and many Labor leaders who have concluded that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat cannot be trusted and must be sidelined.
He said he would revive the offers made by Labor's last prime minister, Ehud Barak, which included Palestinian statehood on about 95 percent of the West Bank and Gaza and Palestinian control over the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem coupled with a dismissal of demands that Palestinian refugees be allowed to return to Israel.
The Palestinians rejected that formula then, and in two years of violence 1,937 persons have been killed on the Palestinian side and 664 on the Israeli side. Polls show Israelis have moved to the right and are likely to provide Likud and other hawkish parties with a parliament majority.
If a peace treaty proves impossible, Mr. Mitzna said, he'd withdraw from parts of the West Bank unilaterally as well, build a wall, and wait for a more amenable Palestinian leadership.
Mr. Mitzna achieved local renown during Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. He handed in a letter resigning from the army after the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians by pro-Israeli Lebanese Christian militiamen in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, outside the Lebanese capital, Beirut.
He cited what he perceived as Mr. Sharon's limited concern over the killings.
Prime Minister Menachem Begin summoned the officer and persuaded him to stay on. Mr. Sharon was ultimately found indirectly responsible for the killings.


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