"We have this tradition, you know, of days of mourning and sadness coming very close to birthdays. We celebrate our memorial for our soldiers the day before Independence Day--you visit the graveyards and remember the people who made it possible," the Israeli ambassador was saying.
"This year, in addition," Moshe Arens continued, betraying no sign of emotion, "we have the withdrawal from the Sinai."
He turned away to greet another of his 1,000 guests arriving last night at the embassy on International Drive to celebrate Israel's 34th Independence Day. Some had been bit players in the drama that closed Sunday, with Israel's withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula.
At least one, Deputy Secretary of State Walter J. Stoessel, had been a supporting actor. He returned from the Middle East Tuesday night after flying there to substitute for Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., involved in his own shuttle diplomacy over the Falklands.
"Emotional, very emotional," said Stoessel of the Israeli pullout. "This whole question about Yamit was very difficult, but they did it without bloodshed, and that was important."
In the crowd, coming and going, were Egyptian Ambassador Ashraf Ghorbal, Reps. Charles Wilson (D-Tex.) and William Lehman (D-Fla.), State Department assistant secretaries and desk officers, CIA representatives, leaders of various Jewish organizations, Pentagon brass and Israeli and American diplomatic correspondents.
They all got kosher snacks but in inspired combinations like pineapple wrapped in pastrami, vegetable tempura, lox and sour cream. "A lot more style this year," murmured one favorably impressed guest.
The noise level was ear-shattering but nobody seemed to mind, yelling to each other about the flowers pretty young women pinned on their lapels when they arrived, or what went on in the United Nations yesterday.
Allan Gerson, special assistant to United Nations Representative Jeane Kirkpatrick (who made the scene a little later), said the only people not delighted with the Israeli pullout from the Sinai were those at the United Nations. The General Assembly yesterday declared that Israel was not a peace-loving member state. The United States voted against the resolution, which passed 86 to 20, with 36 abstentions.
"That term--not a peace-loving member state--is very significant because the charter provides that only peace-loving states are entitled to membership. If they call you a non-peace loving nation, they kick you out," said Gerson.
Palestinian autonomy, another goal of the Camp David accords, was also a popular topic. Dan Pattir, a former press secretary to two Israeli prime ministers who is now a research fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, said he doubted there would be much change of pattern in those discussions.
"I think the discussions will continue because the Egyptians and Israelis want to continue with it," said Pattir, who became something of a shuttle diplomat himself last month when he carried secret messages between Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. "Mubarak told me, 'Look, we'll continue to talk about it until the Palestinians agree to send their representatives to the talks. I don't set deadlines. The sooner the better, but we'll keep talking until they come.' "
Richard Fairbanks, chief U.S. negotiator at the autonomy talks, said he avoids the press "to a fare-thee-well. I just don't think it's helpful to talk about the peace process or autonomy. You want to talk about baseball?"
How about the Falklands, someone suggested.
"Well, don't give up the sheep," Fairbanks said. "And you've heard the other joke, haven't you? That the Argentines think the British fight song ought to be 'Rule Britannia, Britannia waives the rules.' "
When somebody remarked that with jokes of that caliber it was a wonder they get anything done on Palestinian autonomy, Fairbanks feigned a look of innocence.
"Well, actually," he said, "the funniest man in all of Israel is Dr. Joseph Burg, head of the Israeli negotiating team. He outnumbers me because he can tell jokes in eight different languages."