Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said yesterday Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat could stop the violence that has raged for 12 days in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and called on Israeli forces to avoid confrontations.
“Yasser Arafat obviously is the leader of the Palestinian people,” she said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “He has been able in the past to control large portions of this. We expect him to be able to control this.”
National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger told ABC: “I think it’s clearly a dangerous and difficult moment in the Middle East. The cycle of violence has proven very difficult to get under control.
“And the kidnapping [Saturday] of Israeli soldiers along the Lebanese border now implicates the potential of conflict with Lebanon,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Mr. Berger said both sides need to take steps to defuse the situation. He said he believes the Palestinians “need to make further efforts to prevent crowds from putting Israeli forces or Israeli citizens under siege.”
“I think what the Israelis need to do is to diminish the use of live fire,” he said.
He and Mrs. Albright made their comments on Sunday talk shows as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak renewed his demand that Mr. Arafat immediately halt the West Bank and Gaza Strip violence or face an end to peace talks and the possible use of force by Israeli troops.
Mr. Barak’s initial deadline was tonight. But he seemed a bit more flexible in a live interview yesterday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I believe that if, within the next two days, we will not see real cards on the ground, I will have no choice but to interpret it as a deliberate decision by Mr. Arafat to put an end to the negotiations and go toward conflict,” he said.
Mrs. Albright, who appeared on three television news shows, said rock-throwing and rioting by young Palestinians has left Israelis feeling “frustrated” and “under siege.”
“It’s a very difficult situation, clearly … a very volatile situation on both sides, and both leaders have to do everything they can to try to lessen the tension, get disengaged,” she said.
As of yesterday, 84 persons have been killed most of them Palestinians.
“We’re on the edge of a real explosion … Yasser Arafat and others will have to stop the desecration [of Jewish religious landmarks] and get those three Israeli soldiers returned,” Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, the Democratic nominee for vice president and the first Orthodox Jew on a national ticket, said yesterday on CNN’s “Late Edition.”
On ABC, former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Perez urged President Clinton to “intervene” in the crisis and to call on those involved in the violence to end it within 24 hours.
Mr. Berger, who appeared on several talk shows, said on “This Week” that the president already is “personally involved.”
In an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Mr. Berger said Mr. Clinton expected to speak yesterday with Syrian President Bashar Assad to press for the release of the three Israeli soldiers held by Lebanon’s Syrian-backed Hezbollah Shi’ite Muslim group.
“I do not believe that either party here, either the Israelis or the Palestinians, want to see this escalate further beyond control. But it is difficult to break that cycle [of violence],” which has a long history, the president’s top security adviser told ABC.
Mr. Berger pledged that U.S. officials will “do everything that is within our power to try to bring de-escalation here” and will remain in “continuing contact with the parties” involved.
On CBS, Mr. Barak expressed certainty Mr. Arafat could stop the violence if he wants to. “He’s in control. I’m confident that if he gives the right orders, loud and clear, to the right individuals … within 12 hours we will have a calm situation. He proved it in the past. It’s the same right now.”
But Nahil Shaath, a senior Palestinian negotiator who appeared on “Face the Nation,” blamed the Israeli army. “It is the Israeli army in very heavily populated Palestinian areas shooting at Palestinian young men demonstrating and at best in self-defense sending back rocks [while] facing rockets and heavy artillery and the live ammunition and even gunships,” he said.
“I think Mr. Barak is the one who should give orders to his forces to pull out of Palestinian-populated areas and really end this very, very costly massacre that has cost us 100 killed and 2,900 injured so far, to almost no Israeli casualties,” he said.
In television appearances yesterday, Mr. Barak expressed dismay at a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted Saturday that accused Israeli troops of using “excessive force” in the clashes with Palestinians.
Mrs. Albright said the United States found the resolution to be “one-sided” and abstained from voting on it.
On ABC’s “Late Edition,” Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, criticized the Clinton administration for not using its Security Council veto to block the resolution. “It was not an act of courage to abstain,” he said.
Mrs. Albright said on CNN that U.S. Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke made known U.S. opposition to the resolution and tried unsuccessfully “to get a balanced” one. He abstained from voting on it, she said on NBC, because “vetoing it would have created … further problems in the region for us as the honest broker and negotiator.”
Mr. Barak said on NBC: “I do not agree with the resolution. I would prefer that the U.S. vetoed it.” Even so, he said, he “can understand” why this country took the position it took.
Mr. Lieberman, on CNN, said he believes abstention was the “right decision, because it preserves the right of the United States to mediate the peace” in the Mideast. But he agreed it’s “a very tough call.”