'We Have to Speak With Our Enemies,' Mitzna Says

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Newly elected Labor Party leader Amram Mitzna believes he can succeed in a peace process with the Palestinians where other Labor leaders have failed before him, he said on Monday.

Mitzna, who is known for his dovishness - even within the left wing of his party - entered the leadership race for the Labor Party just three months ago, and he swept to victory with a large majority last week.

Speaking to journalists at a meeting of the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem, Mitzna (who is also the mayor of Haifa) pledged a "new horizon." He said the key to his plan is to disengage Israel from the Palestinians either through negotiations or a unilateral action, all the while fighting terrorism with all of Israel's might.

"The key to security for the citizens of Israel is peace," Mitzna said. "Israel went a long way... We recall the [former President Bill] Clinton proposal that was met by Prime Minister Barak [who went] further than anyone - even in Israel - thought Israel will go."

Barak offered Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat more than 95 percent of the disputed West Bank and Gaza Strip and a land swap of sovereign Israeli territory for the remainder, as well as limited rule in Jerusalem in exchange for an end of the conflict at a Camp David summit moderated by Clinton in the summer of 2000. Arafat rejected the offer. Two months later the current violence erupted.

"After all [we did], we received terror, a very brutal terror, terror that will not distinguish between soldiers, civilians, [children], women," Mitzna said.

He had no criticism for the way Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is fighting against terrorism and said he would do the same. Nevertheless, he said, Israel has no choice but to negotiate with the Palestinians.

The current Israeli government has vowed not to negotiate with the Palestinians until all the terrorism stops.

"Despite the terrorism, despite the victims, there is no choice. We have to speak with our enemies. We have to call our enemies to take responsibility, we have to call the Palestinians to understand that they don't have any other choice," he said.

The Palestinians should pick up the mood in Israel and see the hope Mitzna brings by his "appearance on the stage," he said.

"My program is to disengage [ourselves] from the Palestinians. This is the key to my strategy. We will disintegrate [ourselves] from the Palestinians, whether it will be by negotiations, discussions or by unilateralist approach.

"I will call the Palestinians to come back to the negotiation table without preconditions... We will continue to fight terrorism like there is no negotiation and we will negotiate like there is no terrorism," he added.

Mitzna's slogan about fighting terror while negotiating has been used for years, first by the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and then by former Prime and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

When asked how his approach differed from that of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Mitzna said that the difference was that Israelis and Palestinians had suffered for the last two years.

"I have many answers but the real one is something happened here in the last two years. Both people do understand now after another round of terrorism and military operations that we have to go back to negotiating. This is the main reason why, I think, that now it is possible," Mitzna replied.

At the same time Mitzna said that Israel and the Palestinians must band together to fight radical Palestinian groups opposed to the peace process.

Mitzna has pledged to uproot Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip, where some 5,000 Israelis live and withdraw troops unilaterally within a year of his election, regardless of any negotiations with the Palestinians.

He also said that although Arafat is "leading the terrorism against Israel" and has positioned himself as Israel's enemy, it is enemies that one makes peace with. But said that he would not meet with Arafat prior to elections.

Arafat and other Palestinian officials have expressed their satisfaction with Mitzna's election and their hope that the people of Israel will choose him as their leader.

In letters exchanged between Rabin and Arafat in 1993 when they signed the first Israeli-PLO accord, Arafat pledged to abandon terror in favor of talks for the resolution of disputes.

Independent analyst Dr. Aaron Lerner, of the Independent Media Review and Analysis said there is something in Mitzna's plan that does not jive.

Mitzna said he would withdraw unilaterally within a year from the Gaza Strip. That would leave a vacuum in the Gaza Strip, which would then also be sovereign.

"One of the elements of security is the prevention of the introduction of weapons from the outside," Lerner said. How will Israel then impose a blockade on the Gaza Strip - a sovereign state - from the air and sea, he asked.

Everyone wanting to curry favor with the Arab world will be sending in ships and planes, he added. What will Israel do - force the planes to land at its own airport? he asked.

According to opinion polls, two years of violence and terrorism has shifted the Israeli public decidedly to the right. Many believe that, while there may be individuals that want to make peace with Israel, there is no partner for peace among the Palestinians.

A majority of Israelis are expected to vote for the Likud party's leader for the next prime minister on January 28. The leadership race in Likud - between Sharon and Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - will be decided later this week.