Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
A tremendous din filled the Israeli embassy Wednesday as 300 guests defied with their vocal chords the deep disappointment that most of them felt over the Carter-Begin talks on Israeli issues.
It should have been a night of merry feasting (it was the Feast of Purim in the Jewish religious calender, in which the Jews celebrate their deliverance from their enemies in the reign of King Ahasuerus), but instead the air was heavy with a sense of history and the unknown events to come.
Some said they were optimistic, posibly on the grounds it does no harm to hope for the best, but others felt America was on a disaster course.
At the height of the unusual Washington party uproar, the sound of chanting came from a small den adjoining the reception hall of Ambassadoe and Mrs Simcha Dinitz' house on Chesapeake Street NW.
It was Prime Minister Menachem Begin and handful of men in white skullcaps chanting and reading appropriate scriptures for the Feast of Purim.
Begin, with the fate of Israel on his shoulders possibly, sat in an ordinary chair covered with brown tweed in the little library. With him was Robert Lipshutz, the president's legal counsel, who had attended the White House meetings earlier in the day.
Begin said the talks had been "very difficult" and seemed exhausted but game for whatever the schedule called for. Anybody who wished to could walk in and chat. Few actually did so, sensing it was not the best day for idle pleasantries.
In an unremarkable gray suit with a white shirt and blue tie with red figures, Begin looked like any businessman.
No matter who approached, he rose quickly to his feet, gave an open and steady gaze with his eyes and smile that seemed impervious to weariness of body or of heart.
He said "sure," he had been pleased with his reception in America.And yet for the first time, really, an Israeli prime minister has been greeted with nitty - gritty (as they say at the White HOuse) questions, and some of the seemingly severe costacles (from the American government's point of view) to Arab-Israeli peace have been hammered at.
"Very difficult, and I say that in the presence of the adviser to the president (LIpshutz). But we are not discouraged. We cannot afford to be."
Vice President Walter Mondale, circulating with the other guests, contented himself with saying of the talks that "it's tough." He said, "It's difficult to know at this point how optimistic we can be."
William Brock, former senator and now chairman of the Republican National Committee, said, "I think we are walking towards a disaster. We are giving the Israelis a fortress mentality - the belief that they cannot count on anybody but themselves. President Carter may have intended for America to keep a low profile, in the Israeli-Arab negotiations, but his comments on the West Bank settlements and so on are not very low profile at all. They come down like a ton of bricks. By arguing specifics, we take away all the bargaining points that Israel has."
Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger said he is "not discouraged at all. This (slow progress or seeming failure to agree on key point)is to be expected. Agreement is too close to lose optimism."
Ambassador Dinitz said he was not optimistic and not pessimistic but realistic. "Situations have been better. Situations have been much worse."
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said "our chief role in general is to get the two sides to negotiate, keeping as low as profile as possible."
If, however, "getting the two sides together" means pointing out with great frankness what the obstacles seen to be, it is hard to see how the "low profile" can be kept, and this was much on the minds of many.
D.C. City Council CHairman Sterling Tucker said "an understanding with Egypt seems to me the first thing. I think the two sides may not be as far apart as they say."
Joseph Sisxo, president of American University and former assistant secretary of state, said, "When they come out of these talks they look grim, if that means anything. Even when you have lefr the government you never get over your concern."
Former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller said that when you're 70 and off the big firing line you like to trust your friends and leave the infighting to others.
Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) said he will speak with President Carter this morning and hopes to find out what was said in the meetings. He said he is not yet sure whether anything should be done that is not being done.
Many of the guest represented Jewish groups and other religious coalitions. The Rev. William Hall Harter of Chambersburg, Pa., is with the Israel Study Group and the advisory committee of the National Council of Churches Office on Christian-Jewish Relations. He said that speaking just for himself it was obvious the U.S. position "should be supportive only. I think it's a terrible mistake if there is pressure for specifics - however reasonable they may seem to the government here in Washington. Our role should be simply to encourage the two sides to negotiate, not to mastermind an agreement."
Ina Ginsburg, Washington arts patron, turned up in dazzling white, and Nancy Kissinger (who said the Kissinger mutt, Tyler, is doing just fine) was pretty spectacular in bare-shoulder silk.
From time to time Begin left his chair and ventured into the main room, where he was invariably greeted by a cloud of cigar smoke, enough high-power lights to celebrate the comeback of Greta Garbo, and a press of people who felt that once he stood up he might as well shake a few hands. He usually lasted a few seconds, smiled, and returned to the den.
Mrs. Dinitz, the ambassador's wife, said it was symbolic , she supposed, that the party was on the Feast of Purim. "So many lessons to be learned from that Bible account," she said.
The Bible says last night's holiday commemorates (Esther 9:22) "the days wherein the Jews rested from their enemies and the month which was turned unto them from sorrow to joy and from mourning to a good day." Sort of.