Weizman Calls for Direct Contact Between Top Israelis and Arabs

President Ezer Weizman has called for direct personal contact between the top Israeli and Arab leadership to push the peace process forward.

Speaking at a convention this week of the left-wing Mapam party, one of three factions making up the Meretz bloc, Weizman said he favored “mutual acquaintance — quickly” between the leadership “of the two sides.”

“Personal contact is vital,” said Weizman, who befriended former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat when he served as Israel’s defense minister during the Camp David peace negotiations.

“I am asked so often whether (Syrian President Hafez) Assad is like Sadat,” Weizman said. “I have to say: I haven’t met Assad. I haven’t had the chance to explore his personality.”

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin revealed last week that third-party efforts to arrange direct contacts between Syrian and Israeli leaders had been rebuffed by Damascus.

Weizman said he was deliberately not specifying which Arab leaders he intended to include in his call — which was taken by some as a hint that he was referring as well to the Palestine Liberation Organization officials.

Rabin himself has rebuffed public calls from PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat to meet with him.

Weizman said he wanted to sound the note of “a realistic optimist, not a crazy optimist.”

He said he firmly believed the peace process was marching inexorably forward.

At the same convention, Shulamit Aloni, Meretz leader and minister of communications, called explicitly for “direct negotiations between Israel and the PLO.”

If it was acceptable for Israel’s leaders to meet with the leaders of Arab states, she said, why was it not appropriate for them to meet with Arab leaders who were “fighting for that which we fought for and won — independence.”

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