WASHINGTON (Mar. 18)
President Bush was urged Monday by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel to use persuasion, not pressure, on Israel as he seeks to bring about peace in the Middle East.
“We are confident that persuasion rather than pressure, trust rather than suspicion will continue to govern your relationship with Jerusalem,” said Wiesel, a survivor of the Holocaust who writes and teaches about it.
Wiesel spoke at a ceremony in the White House Oval office in which he presented Bush with the humanitarian award of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. Wiesel created the foundation after he won the 1986 Nobel Prize for peace, in order to promote human rights and peace around the world.
The award was a replica of the old-time charity box, or pushke, that once was in almost every Jewish home.
Wiesel also gave the president a pen, saying, “I hope you will sign the peace agreement between Israel and the Arab states with this pen.”
The president replied, “Well, we’re going to try.”
Responding to reporters at the ceremony, Bush warned against missing the opportunity that now exists for progress toward peace.
“I think the longer one waits to take any initiative, the danger is that things will go back to the status quo,” he said.
Before the ceremony, the president met for 45 minutes with Secretary of State James Baker, who reported on his 10-day trip to the Middle East and the Soviet Union. While Bush is expected to go the Middle East himself next month, he said Monday that the trip was not set yet.
Baker found everywhere “a recognition that we ought to go forward” to a solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian question, Bush said.
“I think the climate for fulfilling some of those hopes is better now than it’s ever been,” he said. “We’re not going to miss this opportunity.”
‘LISTEN TO ISRAEL’S FEARS’
After the ceremony, Wiesel told reporters Bush should “listen to Israel’s fears just as Israel should listen to the president’s hopes.”
The Nobel laureate said he had tried to make Bush understand the personal bond Jews have with Israel.
“Mr. President, I, a refugee from Eastern Europe, am now a proud and loyal citizen of the United States,” he told Bush. “But spiritually I claim Israel’s destiny as my own.
“I do not live in Israel. And yet I cannot imagine living without Israel,” he said.
The only previous recipient of the award was Danielle Mitterrand, wife of French President Francois Mitterrand, who was honored for her work with children in the Third World.
Wiesel told reporters that he had planned to present the award to Bush 10 months ago, but scheduling difficulties and then the Persian Gulf War intervened. He said he particularly wanted to honor Bush for his efforts on behalf of the emigration of Ethiopian Jews.
As vice president, Bush was reportedly instrumental in facilitating the Operation Moses airlifts that brought thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel by way of the Sudan.
At Monday’s ceremony, Wiesel also praised Bush for his “moral courage and unshakable resolve” in leading the international coalition against Saddam Hussein’s aggression.
Wiesel said that because of Bush’s action, “small nations feel more secure” and “the last decade of the 20th century may well be remembered for its quest for peace rather than its obsession with violence and death.”