Skip to main content

U.S. President Bill Clinton took the Middle East peace process to the airwaves yesterday, warning the Palestinians not to upset the process by unilaterally declaring their own state and hinting at moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

In an interview with Israeli television, Mr. Clinton sought to bolster Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak before a no-confidence vote over his peace drive and urged Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to do more to seek conciliation.

"I think that there should not be a unilateral declaration. And if there is, our entire relationship will be reviewed. I think it would be a big mistake to . . . walk away from the peace process," Mr. Clinton said in the White House interview, which was aired yesterday.

He did not say what steps Washington might take if Mr. Arafat ignores him. But U.S. lawmakers are threatening to introduce legislation which would cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority if Mr. Arafat goes ahead.

Mr. Clinton also said he would review moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to West Jerusalem.

His comments were apparently intended to push the peace process forward, but could push the Palestinians toward confrontation rather than co-operation.

The suggestion that the U.S. embassy could be moved drew a sharp response from the militant Islamic group Hamas, which said that such a "mischievous" decision would have ramifications throughout the region.

"Hamas will be the first to fight against this issue and it's not only Hamas. The entire interests of the United States will be in danger in all Islamic states," the movement's political leader Mahmoud al-Zahhar said.

Mr. Clinton also said that Mr. Barak had been "more creative and more courageous" than Mr. Arafat at the Camp David peace summit, which collapsed on Tuesday, mainly over the future of Jerusalem. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are due to meet on Sunday but substantive talks are not expected yet.

In a sign of Washington's determination to help the talks succeed, it announced that assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs Edward Walker is being sent on a visit to 14 Arab countries over several weeks starting early next week.

The scope of Mr. Walker's trip suggests Washington is launching a major bid to change Arab minds over Jerusalem.

Palestinians want full sovereignty in Arab East Jerusalem as the capital of the independent state they plan to declare. Israelis say Jerusalem is their indivisible capital.

Palestinian officials, meanwhile, said Mr. Arafat will embark on an international tour of European, Arab and Islamic countries on Saturday intended to win support.

Mr. Barak's political problems mounted yesterday when Foreign Minister David Levy declined to commit himself to the government, complaining that Mr. Barak had made concessions to the Palestinians while getting little in return at Camp David.

Mr. Barak faces a no-confidence vote in parliament Monday. Although he is expected to win it, Mr. Levy's defection would increase the opposition's chances of toppling him.

Interact with The Globe