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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace

The Jewish Week

Mitzna: Geneva Plan The Only Way
By Stewart Ain-Staff Writer

November 7, 2003

Former Labor leader in Jewish Week interview says Sharon has no alternative.

Amram Mitzna, Labors standard-bearer in January when the party suffered its worst defeat in history, predicted Tuesday that the party would disappear unless it adopts at least the principles of the Geneva Initiative, a proposed peace settlement he helped to negotiate with Palestinian leaders.

In a one-hour interview with The Jewish Week, Mitzna said also that the Geneva Initiative initiated by former Justice Minister Yossi Beilin with Yasir Abed Rabbo, an ally of Palestinian President Yasir Arafat is the only viable alternative on the political horizon. And he dismissed recent comments by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that serious Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are just around the corner.

Its a big bluff, Mitzna said, adding that if Sharon does not change his ways, there is no chance his government will remain in power until new elections in 2007. In the meantime, Mitzna said he fears for Israel economically, socially and security-wise.

The Geneva Initiative calls for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders, except for the inclusion of settlements that Mitzna said are home to about 300,000 of the 400,000 Jews in the West Bank. The communities of Ariel and Efrat would not be included.

The plan also would divide Jerusalem and recognize a demilitarized Palestinian state. Palestinian refugees would relinquish their quest for their right of return to Israel, and the Palestinians would recognize the State of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.

The Sharon government blasted the signers of the Geneva Initiative for trying to act in place of a democratically elected government and for giving Palestinians false hopes about concessions the government might make.

But Mitzna insisted that the Sharon government is devoid of any peace plan of its own. And he said the initiative has forced all political parties in Israel into a corner.

They have to say whether they are in or out, whether they believe that there is an alternative and whether they believe that Israel must initiate something or not, Mitzna said during the interview at an Upper West Side hotel.

I hope the government will listen to the noises from the people, Mitzna said, citing polls showing that up to 40 percent of Israelis support the Geneva agreement.

In addition, he pointed to criticism by Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, of the Israeli militarys repressive actions against Palestinians; objections from European states and the United States to Israels construction of a barrier that cuts deep into the West Bank; and the cries of families who lost children in Gaza and the West Bank.

These are all issues that demonstrate that the government will not be able to continue as it is, Mitzna said. It will have to do something to change the course. Even if it doesnt accept the Geneva Initiative, it [must] start negotiating more seriously. And maybe to gain time it will negotiate some of the things that we do like curfews and prisoners to relieve some of the pressure that we put on the Palestinians.

He stressed that adoption of the initiative has no risks because if it doesnt work out, Israel could simply reoccupy Palestinian areas and withdraw unilaterally to borders of its own choosing.

Mitzna, who was in the United States for four days of speaking engagements arranged by Brit Tzedek vShalom, an organization of American Jews committed to a negotiated peace settlement, said he received support whether he was speaking to groups in Boston, Philadelphia or Manhattan. He spoke Monday at Congregation Bnai Jeshurun on the Upper West Side.

A few years ago when someone said there must be a Palestinian state or that Jerusalem must be divided, he had a hard time getting out the door, Mitzna said. I said [at a Reform synagogue in Philadelphia] that unfortunately we will have to divide Jerusalem again, and no one in the crowd said one word. More people now understand what small groups understood years ago there is no way to occupy 3.5 million Palestinians against their will and to stay a Jewish state.

Mitzna said that after former Prime Minister Ehud Barak failed in his attempt to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians in 2000 efforts that were followed by a wave of Palestinian terrorist attacks that continue to this day the voice of the peace camp in Israel was very low. I hope that now, when we have an agenda and an alternative, we have demonstrated that if you are ready to talk about the most substantive issues there are people to talk with on the other side.

And the situation in Israel is such that people are ready to listen to things that before they were not ready to listen to.

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