Netanyahu gets a frosty reception

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President Bill Clinton met the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in the White House yesterday. But no one seriously believes the meeting will yield any substantial progress towards peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

The atmospherics surrounding the White House meeting served only to illustrate just how far apart the US and Israeli visions for peace in the Middle East remain. President Clinton and Mr Netanyahu did not dine together, they did not hold a joint press conference, they did not even appear in public together.

"We're treating him like the president of Bulgaria," a Clinton administration official told the Washington Post. "Actually," the official added, referring to a scheduled Bulgarian visit to Washington next month, "I think Clinton will go jogging with the president of Bulgaria, so that's not fair."

As for the Israeli leader, his main objective in visiting Washington appears to have been to shore up right-wing support for his policies in the US. On arriving in Washington on Monday night he headed straight for a rally of right-wing Christians presided over by Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority. Mr Netanyahu arrived to a thunderous ovation at the hotel where the rally was held.

"Benjamin Netanyahu is the Ronald Reagan of Israel," enthused Mr Falwell, an enemy of President Clinton's so vicious that he accuses him of having dealt in narcotics and of having been involved in the death of Vincent Foster, the former White House official who committed suicide. "I love democracy, and Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East," Mr Falwell declared.

Mr Netanyahu, pointedly referring to his critics in the Clinton camp, told the Falwell faithful that the Jewish people were being "vilified and scorned and misrepresented". "There is no peace of weakness," he added, to resounding applause.

The weakness to which he referred would involve succumbing to White House wishes and abiding by the land-for-peace formula which was the basis of the Israeli-Palestinian accord signed in Oslo in 1993.