WASHINGTON — Israel's Irish-born President Chaim Herzog, claiming the "gift of the Blarney Stone," told a joint session of Congress on Tuesday that progress toward Middle East peace is "inexorable," although he conceded that even within his own country there are disagreements on the methods of achieving it.
"We see as our major challenge the achievement of peace between us and our Arab neighbors, including the Palestinian people," Herzog said. "There may be differences of opinion as to procedures and modalities, but not as to the vital necessity of achieving peace through direct negotiations."
Although Herzog lived in this country both as ambassador to the United Nations and as military attache in Washington, his trip marked the first official state visit to the United States by an incumbent Israeli president. In Israel's parliamentary system, the prime minister and his Cabinet hold most of the political power, but the president acts as a unifying national symbol.
Both governments sought to make the trip a showpiece of U.S.-Israeli cooperation. In addition to his Capitol Hill speech, Herzog was the guest at a lavish White House dinner and a State Department lunch.
The Israeli president received a standing ovation after his speech in the House chamber. Although every seat was filled, many senators and House members were absent, their places filled by pages and junior aides.
Herzog praised the United States for "valiantly defending" the international shipping lanes through the Persian Gulf. But he made clear that Israel does not share the U.S. tilt toward Iraq in the seven-year conflict with Iran. Instead, Herzog impartially condemned both sides.
Today in the Middle East, he said, one of the longest wars in this century is being waged--"a brutal, bloody war motivated by fanatic religious fundamentalism on the one hand and the ambitions of a megalomaniac dictatorship on the other," he said.
Herzog chided the Western world for an "obsessive fixation with every stone-throwing incident in the (Israeli-occupied) West Bank" while overlooking, until it was too late, the conditions that led to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War.
Nevertheless, the Arab-Israeli conflict was the focus of all of his appearances. In a speech after lunch at the State Department, Herzog accused the Palestine Liberation Organization of preventing Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip from dealing with the Israeli authorities on ways to ease the occupation and eventually produce some sort of settlement between Israel and the Palestinian people.
'Frightened by the PLO'
Turning to Secretary of State George P. Shultz, Herzog said that a group of Palestinian moderates who refused to talk to Shultz during a visit to Jerusalem last month "were keen to meet with you." But he said they were frightened off by the PLO.
In a speech at the White House dinner, Herzog noted that he and President Reagan share an Irish heritage. "Somewhere in our personalities, we have a common advantage over many others--that of the gift acquired from the Blarney Stone."
Throughout his visit, Herzog demonstrated his command of Irish flattery. To a Congress often made weary by anti-American rhetoric, he said, "Never in history has a nation given to mankind in so unselfish a manner what the American people have made available to the world."