Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was received with open arms in Washington, especially by Israeli Ambassador Zalman Shoval, who again is living through a change of power back home while in Israel's primary diplomatic perch. "I am sure you will be shocked to hear me say: I did not vote for him. But I like what I hear and what I see," Shoval said of Barak at a dinner in his honor Monday attended by 220 guests, plus a bevy of security men and aides.

Barak is bullish about the elusive search for peace with Syria, which has gained momentum since his election, and he called Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar on Sunday to make his point as the Spanish leader flew to Damascus to huddle with Syrian President Hafez Assad. The message to Assad was that there was a "great opportunity at hand that should not be allowed to slip by," an Israeli official disclosed yesterday.

At Monday's dinner at the Israeli Embassy residence there was a mood of sweet and festive anticipation as guests mingled in an air-conditioned white tent that billowed over the terrace and dined at tables decked with exquisite arrangements of multi-stemmed yellow oncidium orchids, white roses and pale mauve hydrangeas. A pianist played lyrical pieces by Scarlatti and Mendelssohn to herald the new premier, a pianist himself, and his era. According to an official Israeli source, Barak made it plain to Israeli and American officials from the outset of his visit, which began last Wednesday, that "big decisions and the new page" in the Arab-Israeli peace process and American-Israeli relations "should be dealt with and turned by him and Clinton" so the guidelines can be clear. "No doubt the real work will be completed by the specialists later," the source added.

"We don't have enough time to play with each track [of the Middle East peace process] independently," said a senior member of the Israeli delegation. Talking of Syria, he said that because of past "misunderstandings," misreadings and ensuing disappointments, opportunities for a settlement were missed. For Israel, an early warning system on the occupied Golan Heights is "essential," he said of an issue that has been a major sticking point with Syria in the past. "I don't see an alternative, or something that will fully replace it. It is a major element we have once you accept the sovereignty of Syrians over the ground. . . . An early warning system does not shoot, it listens."

This time there was talk of resuming trust and understanding and of dealing with tangibles and of the late Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan's concept of "peace handcuffs." This means ensuring that the returns from peace, international investment, trade zones, shared water resources and other forms of interdependence overshadow any need for war. Israel's strength, and its negotiating for peace from a position of military might, were also emphasized by Barak in talks with U.S. officials and members of Congress yesterday. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright attended the dinner Monday and termed the visit "an enormous success," vowing that U.S. support of Israeli security will "remain rock solid."

Other members of the cabinet, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Benjamin A. Gilman (R-N.Y.), special Middle East coordinator Dennis Ross, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Martin S. Indyk, Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams and media luminaries were also at the dinner. Barak said he has been to Washington before, but this was "a special visit." He promised the citizens of Israel "peace, security and internal unity." Barak added, "I see the burden of responsibility on my shoulders wherever I go and whomever I see."

No More Nationalism

Bosnian Ambassador Sven Alkalaj says from now on we should try not to use the term "the Balkans" because of the animosities it evokes. "Maybe that would change the mind-set of people over there and the perspective of the world," he said Monday at a panel discussion. He warned that as long as Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic remains in power, "Serbs would not be able to find a democratic alternative." He pointed out that Milosevic's latest action in Kosovo had been "the fourth war he had waged for Greater Serbia and the fourth he had lost."

Bulgarian Ambassador Philip Dimitrov said the prevailing axiom in central Europe now is that "you cannot have peace in your house if you don't have peace in your neighborhood." He challenged the idea that all Albanians should live in one state, cautioning: "If we start fulfilling the national dream of countries in the Balkans, we are in dire straits. We should not allow political correctness to prevail over common sense." Lubica Z. Acevska, their counterpart from Macedonia, counseled that the best alternative would be to democratize Serbia, because another war--in Montenegro--would be devastating.