Opinion / Mitzna Must Show Courage

I don't know Amram Mitzna personally, but I have followed his activities ever since he did something during the Lebanon War that impressed me deeply: he resigned from his army post in protest against Ariel Sharon's mad adventure.

Senior officers who sacrifice their careers for a moral principle are a rare breed in any army, and especially in the IDF. To do this requires moral courage, which, to my mind, is more important than physical courage on the battlefield.

After Menachem Begin (a man who respected integrity and decency) brought him back to a senior command position, I was frequently angry with Mitzna when he tried to placate the settlers as head of the IDF's Central Command.

Now he is a candidate for another top position: chairman of the Labor Party and leader of its election campaign. I hope he will win. But if he does, I won't envy him. He will inherit a party that for 20 months was Sharon's despised mistress - the same Sharon that Mitzna protested against when Sharon wrecked havoc in Lebanon.

The Labor Party has now helped him to cause even worse havoc in the Palestinian territories. Shimon Peres has convinced the world that the "bad" Sharon, the man of Sabra and Shatila, has become the "good" Sharon, eager to make peace. Benjamin Ben-Eliezer has provided the Labor Party cover for a policy of executions, destruction of infrastructure, demolition of homes, and uprooting of trees.

Such a party will lose the elections by a knock-out. The Labor Party is facing disaster, and that would be a calamity for the entire country. The extreme right would wield unbridled power during the coming years. It would destroy any chance for peace for decades, perhaps for generations, perhaps forever. The Labor Party would not even play the role of an opposition. It would leave a black hole behind it.

If Mitzna wins the nomination, he must change this situation dramatically and rapidly. This is an enormous challenge. No party creates new political assets during elections; it can only realize assets accumulated throughout the years. The voters have learned that election promises are worthless. Mitzna is being called upon to do something that is almost without precedent: to change the essence and image of the party - in the midst of an election campaign.

But this is possible on one condition: that his message is unequivocal, direct and finely honed, without stuttering, without demagoguery, without gimmicks. Election consultants and various "strategists" will say that he must first use left-wing language to capture the leadership of the party, and then switch to right-wing language to win votes from the center. If he chooses this path, he will fail.

His only chance of meeting this challenge is to speak the truth straight from his heart, without reservation. The message must be simple and uncompromising: The state has no future without peace. Peace is possible, if we are ready to pay the price. There is a partner for peace. Most of the Palestinian people want peace. Yasser Arafat wants peace.

Peace means a Palestinian state along the Green Line - with mutually agreed border revisions, Jerusalem as the capital of the two states, evacuation of all the settlers from the Palestinian territory. All settlement activity must stop at once, using the money instead to promote economic growth and fund social services. An immediate cease-fire must be reached, with the IDF withdrawing from Palestinian cities and villages. The peace negotiations must be resumed from the point at which they stopped at Taba and final accord should be achieved within a year.

Mitzna must promise that if the right wins, the Labor Party will not join a "national unity" government. Will this assure a victory at the polls? Of course not. But this provides a reasonable chance, while the current path surely leads to an overwhelming, shameful defeat. Even if the right wins this time, this clear platform will ensure that the Labor Party can act as a fighting opposition, whose banner will attract more and more of those who become disenchanted with the right. This opposition party will be poised to do everything possible to regain power. And the opportunity will come when the public is finally fed up with the methods of brute power and oppression, which lead only to endless bloodshed and economic and social devastation. Many people, more than one might think, are waiting for this change.

Much courage is needed for pursuing this path. In the past, Mitzna has proved that he has this kind of courage. I hope that it remains with him now.

Uri Avnery, a journalist and peace activist, is founder of Gush Shalom.