In an interview designed to shore up support for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, President Clinton said he will look into moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
In making the comments about the embassy, Clinton was reportedly responding to a request from Barak, who faced a scheduled no-confidence vote in the Israeli Knesset on Monday as polls show his support among the Israeli public is diminishing.
The statement, which Clinton made in an exclusive interview to Israel Television broadcast last Friday, drew immediate anger from Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world.
“I have always wanted to move our embassy to west Jerusalem. We have a designated site there,” Clinton said.
“I have not done so because I didn’t want to do anything to undermine our ability to help to broker a secure and fair and lasting peace for Israelis and for Palestinians. But in light of what has happened” at Camp David, “I’ve taken that decision under review, and I’ll make a decision sometime between now and the end of the year on that.”
Contacts between Israel and the Palestinians resumed Sunday. Israeli negotiator Oded Eran met with his Palestinian counterpart, Saeb Erekat, to discuss issues, including another Israeli pullback from the West Bank and a Palestinian demand for the release of 250 Palestinian security prisoners held in Israeli jails.
Some 53 percent of respondents to a poll published last Friday in the Jerusalem Post said Barak offered “too much” at Camp David. Eleven percent said he did not offer enough, while 28 percent said he offered the right amount.
Barak received a boost Sunday, when Foreign Minister David Levy said he would delay his decision on whether to remain in Barak’s coalition in the hopes of persuading him to form a national unity government with the opposition Likud Party.
In the Israel Television broadcast, Clinton made several additional comments regarding the Middle East and the just-concluded Camp David talks, among them:
Clinton warned of consequences if the Palestinians carry out their threat to unilaterally declare statehood in mid-September. But he did not say whether he would support an initiative in the U.S. Congress to cut off aid to the Palestinians if they make a unilateral declaration.
“Our entire relationship will be reviewed,” Clinton said. “I think it would be a big mistake to take a unilateral action and walk away from the peace process. And if it happens, there will inevitably be consequences – not just here, but throughout the world, and things will happen. I would review our entire relationship, including, but not limited” to financial aid.
The Palestinians agreed at Camp David that a fund should be created for Jewish refugees expelled from Arab lands following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. The president said he recently sought money for such a fund from European nations and Japan. This fund would be in addition to a proposed fund to compensate Palestinian refugees who fled to Arab states during Israel’s War of Independence.
The Clinton administration would immediately begin a comprehensive review of the strategic relationship between Israel and the United States aimed at ensuring that “Israel maintains its qualitative edge, modernizes the IDF and meets the new threats that Israel and the other countries will face in the 21st century.” Clinton spoke of providing further assistance to Israel in light of Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in order to maintain the Jewish state’s security.
The Arab media attacked Clinton’s remarks, saying they revealed pro-Israel sympathies that barred him from being an honest broker in the peace process.
Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat accused the Americans of trying to blame the Palestinians for the failure of the Camp David summit.
Speaking in Paris, Arafat said his tour of capitals in Europe and the Middle East would counter “the big lies that they are trying to put out about what happened at Camp David.”
Arafat added the Palestinians would declare a state when the “time is right.”
Israel and the Palestinians have set a Sept. 13 target date for reaching a final peace accord. The Palestinians have said they will declare a state then, with or without a peace agreement.
Israel has previously threatened that it would respond to such a move with its own unilateral steps, including the annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Regarding the president’s comments on the embassy, the militant Islamic Hamas movement warned the United States that if it moves its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem “the entire interests of the United States will be in danger in all Islamic states.”