Hillary Blames Arafat For Failed Talks

N E W   Y O R K, July 29, 2000 -- First lady Hillary Clinton continued her efforts to cozy up to New York’s Jewish voters today, as she blamed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for the failure of the Middle East peace talks and called for the U.S. embassy in Israel be moved to Jerusalem by the end of the year.

“It’s clear that [Israeli] Prime Minister Barak came committed to reaching a deal that would guarantee peace and security for Israel and the entire region and I’m sorry that Chairman Arafat didn’t show the same commitment,” Mrs. Clinton said in an interview with WCBS radio.

Speaking about the possibility of moving the embassy from its current location in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the first lady said, “I’d like to see that move made by the end of the year.”

Soon after the interview, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign erased any doubts that her remarks had been planned in advance, when it issued a press release highlighting the comments.

The question of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem is a sensitive one, both in the Middle East and among Americans with ties to the region. Moving the embassy would be seen an endorsement of Israel’s claim to the historic city as its capital and a rebuff to Palestinians who have sought to make the eastern part of the city their capital.

Lazio: Hillary Lacks Credibility

Rep. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.), the first lady’s opponent in the U.S. Senate race, accused her of undergoing a politically-motivated conversion on issues important to Israel.

“I don’t think her remarks have credibility,” Lazio said during a campaign swing today which included a stop at a Long Island synagogue. “The real issue here is that she has said in the past that she is not for placing the embassy in Jerusalem.”

A press release from Lazio’s campaign said Mrs. Clinton’s statements were a “flip-flop” from what she told Orthodox Jews during a December 1999 meeting. Lazio’s camp quoted from an article in the Forward newspaper in which the first lady was reported to have said that “she would not immediately move the American embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.”

However, the Lazio release omitted the rest of that sentence. The article went on to report that Mrs. Clinton said her position was taken out of concern that “the move would upset the peace negotiations.” She also said the Israeli government had indicated it did not welcome such a move at that time.

In the radio interview today, the first lady said she was “pleased” that the Israeli and Palestinian teams have agreed to continue their discussions. She gave no indication that she feared that moving the embassy could disrupt future peace talks.

Embassy Decision Later This Year

In an interview with Israeli television on Thursday, President Clinton said that he is reviewing the question of moving the embassy and will make a decision on it by the end of the year. In the days since the Camp David peace talks broke down, the president has offered effusive praise for Barak but has been more reserved in his comments about Arafat.

However, he cautioned reporters that he was not “condemning” Arafat and noted that the Palestinians did offer some concessions during the difficult negotiations.

Earlier this week, Mrs. Clinton declared that U.S. aid to the Palestinians should be cut off if the Palestinians declared statehood absent an agreement with the Israelis. The president said later that such a move by the Palestinians would be a “big mistake” but did not directly endorse his wife statement favoring a total withdrawal of U.S. aid.

The president and Mrs. Clinton were both in New York City today to attend a lunch fund-raiser for her Senate campaign. The event, which aides hoped would raise $250,000, was attended primarily by Korean-Americans. Neither Clinton mentioned the Middle East during the fund-raiser. The first couple planned to spend the evening at their home in Chappaqua, N.Y.

— ABCNEWS’ Josh Gerstein and the Associated Press contributed to this report

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