November 12 1999
WADI MOUSA, Jordan –
Hillary Rodham Clinton criticized
Palestinian officials today for pushing the statehood issue into the
spotlight, saying her hosts had not acted properly during her brief visit to
the West Bank a day earlier.
“I do not believe any kind of inflammatory rhetoric or baseless charges are
good for the peace process,”
the first lady told reporters during a tour of the ancient Nabataean city of Petra.
In Jerusalem, Israeli officials expressed outrage after Suha Arafat, the wife
of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, accused Israel of using ‘poison gas”
against Palestinians in comments she made in welcoming Mrs. Clinton to the
West Bank town of Ramallah on Thursday.
In the speech, Mrs. Arafat pushed the statehood issue – and claimed there are
increased rates of cancer among Palestinian women and children because of
“intensive daily use of poison gas by the Israeli forces in the past
Mrs. Arafat did not specify what gas she was referring to.
Israeli Cabinet Minister Haim Ramon, who often speaks in the name of Prime
Minister Ehud Barak, said
“Israel cannot ignore incitement of the type that
could almost be called blood libel.”
Ramon said the leaders should be preparing their peoples for peace, and that
Mrs. Arafat was doing the opposite.
Housing Minister Yitzhak Levy demanded the government reconsider handing over
West Bank territory to the Palestinians – calling the comments a violation of
Palestinian Cabinet Minister Ziad Abu-Zayyad today tried to soften Mrs.
Arafat’s prepared remarks, saying she had not meant Israelis were poisoning
He said she was mainly referring to the Israeli army’s liberal use of tear
gas in dispersing Palestinian stone throwers. Palestinian activists have in
the past blamed errant tear gas canisters for miscarriages by women – but the
cancer charges are new.
During her visit to Ramallah, Palestinian speakers constantly reminded Mrs.
Clinton of her early support for Palestinian statehood, which also triggered
an angry response from Israel and potentially complicated the first lady’s
efforts to court Jewish voters back home in a possible race for a Senate seat
from New York.
Mrs. Clinton’s likely opponent in the race, New York City Mayor Rudolf
Giuliani, leaped on the first lady for not objecting to the poison gas
“The reaction was very disturbing. It’s inconceivable that there would be no
comment from Mrs. Clinton in the face of these abhorrent and ridiculous
said Bruce Teitelbaum, director of Giuliani’s political action committee.
“I’m confident the mayor’s reaction would have been completely different and
he would have swiftly condemned the remarks, just like Barak did,” he said.
At Petra, Mrs. Clinton was asked why she did not respond to the Palestinian
statehood calls earlier. She said the comments were not
“worthy of any particular comments at that time.”
Earlier today, Mrs. Clinton said in a statement that the Ramallah remarks
were an example of why President Clinton
“at Oslo urged the parties to refrain from making inflammatory charges
or engaging in excessive rhetoric and to deal with any issues at the negotiating table.”
Mrs. Clinton arrived in Petra by helicopter accompanied by her daughter,
Chelsea, and Princess Aisha, the 31-year-old sister of Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
They walked along a winding cleft in the rock, known as the ‘siq’, to the
temples, tombs and elaborate buildings that were carved by Nabataean Arab
tribes some 2,000 years ago into the rocky mountains, 150 miles south of the
Jordanian capital Amman.
Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea stopped, hugged one another and smiled for the
cameras in front of the sites, while Bedouin souvenir vendors looked on in
amusement and marksmen were posted in some of the high cliffs.
On Saturday, Mrs. Clinton is expected to lay a wreath on the grave of King
Hussein, who died of cancer last February. She will also attend a conference
that Queen Rania will chair on early childhood development.