The president and his bride

n TWO FORMER presidents have been in the news of late. Former US president Jimmy Carter, who 30 years ago was the midwife to the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, has been talking to leaders in the region in the hope of breaking down barriers and injecting some progress into the peace process; and former president of Israel Yitzhak Navon has taken a bride. In the latter case, the ceremony was a mere formality. Observers who were not in the know should have guessed by Navon's sprightly step and more dapper appearance that something more than his 87th birthday was in the works. When Navon showed up at Beit Hanassi for the traditional "New Year for Kings" commemoration ceremony, he looked slimmer and more energetic than usual. This may have been because he was anticipating his wedding to Miri Shafir, with whom he has been keeping company for approximately a decade. This week, a report in Yediot Aharonot made it clear that Miri Shafir was now Miri Navon. The couple could not be reached because they were honeymooning in Italy. The wedding, a secret affair, at the home of close friends and mainly within the circle of the families of the bride and groom, had taken place last week, which may explain why President Shimon Peres, who was in Poland at the time, had not known about it. Navon met Shafir some five years after the death of his first wife Ofira, who succumbed to cancer in 1993, at age 57. A developmental psychologist, the beautiful and flamboyant Ofira Navon was a tireless campaigner for the rights of children and the disabled. She worked closely with Jihan Sadat, the wife of slain Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, on projects designed to rehabilitate wounded Israeli and Egyptian soldiers. When Navon began courting Shafir in public, it was impossible not to notice her striking physical resemblance to Ofira. Shafir subsequently became a well-known fashion designer, a profession she abandoned in favor of image consulting. Navon and Shafir made no secret of their common-law relationship and were seen together at social, cultural and diplomatic events, including the inauguration of Peres as Israel's ninth president. Apropos Peres, after a grueling four days in Poland and a four-hour flight back to Israel, he did not let up on his schedule, but went to Tel Aviv to attend the wedding of the son of former legal counsel for Moshe Katsav, David Liba'i. Peres also found time for a meeting related to his international mega conference, scheduled to be held in Jerusalem in mid-May with the participation of current and former world leaders. n JERUSALEM'S STATELY King David Hotel, which has hosted royalty, heads of state, high-ranking politicians, leaders in the world of finance, internationally renowned cultural figures and entertainers, and then some, this week hosted Jimmy Carter, and not for the first time. Under the auspices of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, Carter agreed to review the outcome of his current visit to the Middle East, and surprisingly offered to answer questions afterwards. Carter has a reputation for avoiding questions, or at best insisting on vetting them in advance. A non-government, non-partisan body, the ICFR is headquartered in Jerusalem under the auspices of the World Jewish Congress. Despite the heavy traffic generated by the holiday season, a large representation of people from Tel Aviv, Herzliya Pituah, Kfar Shmaryahu and Savyon arrived at the hotel at a remarkably early hour. The rows of seats were quickly filled and the "breathing" space left at the end of each row and at the back of the large reception room was crowded with people who were willing to stand for the privilege of just being there. Foreign and local media were there in droves. When it was pointed out to a senior ICFR official that this was probably the best attendance at any ICFR affair, the official responded: "It's amazing what notoriety can achieve." London-born ICFR president David Kimche, who arrived in Israel in 1948, is a former director-general of the Foreign Ministry, and before that held the No. 2 slot in the Mossad, told Carter - who had been given the cold shoulder by the Israeli government - that he was a welcome and honored guest, and noted that without Carter's "single-handed determination" it was doubtful that the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt would have come about, and for that he was deserving of Israel's eternal gratitude.