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Israel’s President Preaching Ideas for Peace in Washington

With a mix of ceremony and substance, Ezer Weizman preached peace on his first visit to the United States as Israel’s president.

An activist statesman in what is traditionally a ceremonial post, Weizman breezed through the political establishment and the American Jewish community during his visit this week.

Beginning with a White House dinner Monday, Weizman defended Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pursuit of peace and supported his call for a U.S.-sponsored Camp David summit to negotiate the final-status issues.

President Clinton did not respond directly to Weizman’s request but said that he is willing to do anything or go anywhere — Camp David, Florida or the North Pole — for the cause of peace.

“I would get parkas for all of us, and we could all go to the North Pole and stay there until we had a peace agreement,” said Clinton. “At least, it would cool things down.”

But for now, Clinton opposes an intense negotiating format modeled after the 1978 Camp David talks that led to the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.

At an Oval Office meeting with Weizman, Clinton said the lack of trust and the gaps between the parties are too wide for successful talks.

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations resumed in Jerusalem Monday, after a seven- month hiatus, with the assistance of U.S. Special Middle East Coordinator Dennis Ross. The sides will convene in Washington next week to continue their talks.

Weizman told Clinton that Netanyahu and Arafat could use a “little push” but not “pressure,” according to Israeli reporters.

The remarks mirrored comments Weizman made at the small dinner Clinton hosted along with Vice President Al Gore and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Clinton sat for three hours with some 20 American Jews at a carefully crafted roundtable to discuss the peace process.

What Clinton heard, according to meeting participants, is a Jewish audience united in its support for U.S. pressure to continue the peace process. But many participants told the president that he does not have Jewish support to pressure Israel into taking specific steps.

Clinton and Albright both said there were no plans to pressure Netanyahu.

Guests included leaders from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, American Jewish Congress, American Jewish Committee, Hadassah and the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movements.

For Weizman, his trip was a long time coming.

“It’s time for me to come here to voice and to share an opinion on how we should go on,” Weizman said to a group of about 250 Jewish activists, administration officials and former diplomats at a luncheon at the State Department.

The Jordanian and Egyptian ambassadors to the United States attended the lunch.

One of the few public discussions of the failed Mossad attempt to assassinate a Hamas leader in Amman came in the Oval Office before Clinton began his meeting with Weizman.

“I believe that it’s important to fight terrorism, but I think it’s important to consider in the fight the consequences on all of your allies in that fight and what the ultimate conclusions will be,” Clinton said in his strongest criticism of the affair to date.

Weizman was scheduled to host a large reception of hundreds of Jewish activists and meet with a small delegation from the Conference of Presidents before leaving for Israel Thursday.

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