When the people of Israel go to the polls on January 28 it seems likely that they will have a clear–cut choice between widely differing policies. Yesterday's election for a new leader of the opposition Labour Party was predicted to bring Amram Mitzna to the fore of Israel's national and international politics; until now he has been known as an army general and mayor of the port city of Haifa. If the predictions have proved correct he will have defeated the former leader of the party, Binyamin Ben–Eliezer who served as Defence Minister in Ariel Sharon's “national unity” government until his recent resignation.

Mitzna's policies could not be more different from Ariel Sharon's and Benjamin Netanyahu's – the two candidates competing to lead the Likkud party in January's election. Far from cold–shouldering or expelling the Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat, Mitzna would open peace discussions fom him. Far from reinforcing and extending the illegal Jewish settlements built on occupied land, Mitzna would stop further construction and “uproot” the existng ones. Far from intensifying Israeli army incursions into Gaza and the West Bank, he would withdraw unilaterally from these areas ”according to the Israeli interest”.

The polls are predicting a victory for Likkud in January, whether under Sharon or Netanyahu. But if Amram Mitzna has won the Labour leadership convincingly he will have a base from which to offer the Israeli people a valid alternative to the present government's negative and counter–productive policies.

Ray Fleming

Who pays?

The Spanish fishermen of Galicia and all those who live, work and visit the lovely coastline that is now so disastrously affected by the oil from the tanker Prestige deserve sympathy and help. However the attitude of the Spanish government in blaming the disaster on the port authorities of Gibraltar – and, therefore, indirectly on Britain – is of no help to anyone. The Prestige was built in Japan, registered in the Bahamas and owned by a Greek company; it set sail from Latvia for Singapore, but whether it was due at Gibraltar or not or had been there, has not been satisfactorily established. In any case, the accusation by Loyola de Palacio, Spain's European Union Transport Commissioner that this was “yet another case of tax evasion, smuggling and inappropriate behaviour” seems wildly wide of the mark. The real issue is why a ship built in 1976 with a single–skin hull construction, designed to be phased out internationally in 2015, should be at sea in appalling weather loaded with 77'000 tons of crude oil. There are probably dozens of such super rust–buckets plying the oceans – every one a disaster waiting to happen. Who takes the responsibility for the long–term environmental and other damage caused by such disasters?

The simple answer is that the owners of the ship should, but ownership nowadays is frequently so diffused that it would often be difficult to establish responsibility. What is clear is that the cost should not fall wholly on the blameless government and its citizens whose life and livelihood have been blighted.