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Once More, David and Goliath
uploaded : Saturday 28th Dec 2002 at 15:48
by : Shira Herzog
When Israeli Labour Party leader Amram Mitzna and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
meet at the polls next month, few people will remember that their
disagreements date back 20 years. During the 1982 Lebanon War, General Mitzna
first stepped into the limelight when he disagreed with then defence minister
Sharon's aggressive strategy. Even then, the two generals had divergent a
pproaches to Israel's security doctrine that stemmed from their dramatically
different, formative experiences.
The older man, Mr. Sharon, hails from Israel's founding generation of '48,
for whom territory was the critical component of their young state's
security. Mr. Sharon first made his mark in the 1950s when, as a young
officer, he initiated reprisal raids against fedayeen (the PLO's predecessor)
cells that infiltrated Israel from Egypt and Jordan. Mr. Sharon sees the
current Palestinian intifada as a recast version of that battle against
Israel's very existence.
The younger Mr. Mitzna is a product of the generation of '67, which matured
through Israel's 35-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. As chief of
the central command in the first intifada (1987-1992), his unease with some
of the practices of Israel Defence Forces in West Bank cities contributed to
his eventual departure from the military, and his entry into politics as
mayor of Israel's third city, Haifa.
Mr. Mitzna's view of security goes beyond military superiority to include
economic prosperity, social cohesion, demographic stability and an inclusive
democracy. He has consistently argued that prolonged Israeli control over
three million Palestinians undermines these critical elements of Israel's
Where Mr. Sharon considers it "just" to wage war in order to further
strategic objectives, Mr. Mitzna continues the approach that guided Israel's
leaders in the 1948, 1967 and 1973 wars, an approach that defined a "just
war" strictly as a defensive war of "no choice."
In 1982, the debate over the extent of the army's push into Lebanon's
heartland -- beyond Israel's original plan for a 15-kilometre security zone
-- reflected this divide. For Mr. Mitzna and many others, Mr. Sharon's
controversial plan for what we would today call a "regime change" in Beirut
went beyond the acceptable limits of Israel's security doctrine. (Eventually,
amidst considerable public discussion, Israel withdrew to the more narrow
security zone in 1985 and to its international border in 2000.)
The relevance of all this to the current debate is clear. Israel is fighting
two wars: one against terrorism aimed at the heart of its civilian centres,
and one over control of territories that Palestinians claim as their own and
some Israelis view as critical to their country's security.
For Mr. Sharon, the two are synonymous, and he has obfuscated Israel's
potential choices. (His recent statements about partial withdrawal from the
West Bank and Gaza are better seen in the context of election politics.) As
he did in Lebanon in 1982, he now believes that the PLO's infrastructure has
to be destroyed.
In contrast, Mr. Mitzna wants to sharpen the distinction between Israel's two
battlefields. He argues that the just war against terrorism does not require
-- and is in fact impeded by -- continuing Israeli presence in heavily
On Jan. 28, these differences will be at the heart of the choice facing
Israeli voters. Ironically, Mr. Mitzna offers the activist agenda: withdrawal
from Gaza within a year, followed by disengagement from the West Bank --
including dismantling most of the Israeli settlements. He proposes a clear,
if risky, option.
Mr. Sharon offers familiarity and "more of the same." Unless he draws a
hitherto unseen card during the campaign, he favours continued military
presence within the territories, at least until the Palestinian leadership
In public opinion polls, Israelis agree both with Mr. Mitzna's political
vision and with Mr. Sharon's strong hand against terror, but the critical
weakness of Mr. Mitzna's approach is the public's belief that there is no one
to negotiate with on the Palestinian side. Mr. Mitzna's conclusion -- that
the cost of remaining in the territories is greater than the cost of withdraw
al even without negotiations -- is still far too radical for voters reeling
from the relentless impact of bloody terrorism.
Barring dramatic, unforeseen circumstances, Mr. Sharon will head the next
Israeli government. Mr. Mitzna's task will be to rebuild the left, and
maintain the clarity of its position. If Mr. Sharon maintains a strategy of
continued force on the ground and fails to change the balance of terror,
Israelis will seek an alternative. Then Mr. Mitzna will stand a chance in a
Shira Herzog is executive vice-president of the Calgary-based Kahanoff Foundation and a writer on Israeli affairs. She splits her time between
Toronto and Tel Aviv.
Source: The Globe and Mail
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