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Israel Installs Seventh President with Pageantry and Hopes for Peace

Israel spared little in its lavish inauguration Thursday of the seventh president of Israel, Ezer Weizman, the hawk-turned-dove politician and former air force commander.

Outside the Knesset prior to the swearing-in, the red carpet was rolled out, an honor guard stood at attention and blaring trumpets heralded the transfer of presidential power from incumbent Chaim Herzog to Weizman.

Inside, following a farewell speech by Herzog, who held the presidency for 10 years, Weizman, 68, took the oath of office for the five-year, largely ceremonial post. The sound of sho-fars signaled that the transition was completed.

Knesset Speaker Shevach Weiss proclaimed the traditional “Long live the president of Israel!” which those assembled echoed three times.

In his 15-minute speech, Weizman recounted Israel’s struggles to establish itself as a state where world Jewry would settle, celebrated how much the country has developed since its inception and sounded his hopes for peace.

He said that while problems such as social inequities have not been eliminated, there have been tremendous achievements that compare favorably to those of far bigger countries, and this in spite of constant threats to Israel’s survival.

He said it is Israel’s mission to sound a positive message about itself so that more Jews will be drawn to make aliyah. He also said that the successful integration of the immigrants who have already come should be considered vital to Israel’s security.

FINAL PLEA FOR ELECTORAL REFORM

Weizman observed that the course of his own life, particularly his military endeavors, has paralleled that of the country.

He said he had hoped all his life for the day Israel would realize peace so that the death and suffering that had punctuated Israel’s short existence would end and the country could focus on developing economically, socially, educationally and culturally.

Today, Weizman said, all of the nation’s efforts must be invested in the current peace process. But he also made a point of noting that the Arabs joined this process only after they realized they could not destroy Israel and did not want to miss the chance to develop the Middle East economically and culturally.

Weizman said he hoped peace with the Arabs would be realized during his presidency.

Herzog, in his speech, recounted the changes that had occurred and the challenges Israel had faced during his decade in office.

He also pointed to the weaknesses in the structure of the Israeli government and called for electoral reform that would enhance democracy and increase the stability of the national leadership.

He said there needs to be a clearer separation of government powers and more accountability by Knesset members to the public.

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