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September 29, 1995 - Image 66

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-09-29

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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401 74*

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Weizman's Gambit

Israel's president is making a very untraditional use
of his office's venerable standing.


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erusalem — If anyone had
failed to notice that Presi-
dent Ezer Weizman has
been making some very un-
presidential waves as of late, his
New Year's interview on Israel's
Channel 1 put an end to that
In response to grumblings that
the president is overstepping the
bounds of his fundamentally "fig-
urehead role" by criticizing gov-
ernment policy, Weizman took
the opportunity to set his critics
"-Nothing defines what I am al-
lowed or forbidden to do," said the
feisty 71-year-old president. "I
think that if I stand at the head
of state, I define for myself what
I must do."
And that, as Weizman sees it,
he must "note where changes
should be made ... to warn about
things I don't think are right."
Strictly speaking, Weizman
has a point about the restrictions
on his prerogatives. The Basic
Law governing the presidency
stipulates what the official, if
nominal, head of state can or
must do (such as sign laws and
treaties, receive diplomatic cre-
dentials, install judges, and -
pardon offenders or commute
sentences), but not what he must
Yet the tradition surrounding
the office, from the days of Israel's
first president, Chaim Weizmann
(Ezer's uncle), dictates that it be
totally devoid of political content.
Indeed, the question that hovered
over the candidacy of the usual-
ly uninhibited and often impetu-
ous Ezer Weizman was whether
he was temperamentally suited
to the rather straight-laced job of
president and would stick to the
"unwritten rules."
"It's clear to me what I'm not
supposed to do as president," he
quipped to well-wishers just af-
ter the Knesset vote, "though I'm
not yet sure about what I am
allowed to do."
Buoyed by his popularity, how-
ever, in the intervening two-and-
a-half years Weizman has
imposed his own style and rules
on the presidency.
The turnabout was first felt as
early as December 1993, when
Weizman — who perceives his
role as promoting and reflecting
national consensus — called for
the formation of a national unity
government (usually reserved
for times of major crisis). But
the greatest transformation in
the president, who was consid-
ered an arch-dove when he
assumed the office, has come


over the past year.
After the bus bombing on
Dizengoff Street last October,
Weizman refused to take a call
from PLO Chairman Yassir
Arafat, who intended to denounce
the action. Three months later,
after the slaughter of 20 soldiers
at Beit Lid, Weizman called for
suspending the peace talks and
to "rethink" the process.
And after the April attack on
an Israeli bus in the Gaza Strip,
he suggested the government
consider halting the peace talks
Then, a few weeks ago, Weiz-
man moved beyond suggestions.
Unless the Palestinian Authori-
ty extradited from Jericho the
suspected murderers of two Is-
raeli hikers, he pledged to refuse
commutation of the sentences of
Palestinian prisoners slated to be
released as a part of the Inter-
im Agreement — thus personally
blocking the implementation of
Oslo II.
In his televised New Year in-
terview, he repeated that vow
(though one of the clauses of the
Gaza-Jericho Law makes it pos-
sible to release most security pris-
oners without his approval). Even
more irritating to the government
was Weizman's blast at the
emerging agreement.
"I fear we're giving up assets
today, before we go to the (talks
on the) final settlement, and I
want to approach the final set-

"I think that if I
stand at the head of
state, I define for
myself what I must

tlement with maximum power in
hand," he explained to the nation.
He also scored the government
for the style of its negotiations,
even as Foreign Minister Shimon
Peres and Chairman Arafat were
holding marathon talks to final-
ly clinch the deal.
'What's the rush?" Weizman
snapped. "There's a saying in
both Hebrew and Arabic: 'Haste
is from the Devil.' The team han-
dling the talks doesn't go to sleep;
it's tired ... and I think that's a
If Prime Minister Yitzhak Ra-
bin is annoyed with Weizman for
his unprecedented interference,
he has been careful not to show
it. Time and again, out of respect
WEIZMAN'S page 68

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