JERUSALEM — President Clinton says the Palestinians will be making a "big mistake" if they declare independence unilaterally as they have threatened to do.
Clinton spoke in an interview with Israeli television, excerpts of which were broadcast on Israeli radio Friday.
"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," Clinton said, when asked directly about the Palestinian threat of declaring independence unilaterally. "I mean, things will happen."
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and others have said that the Palestinians are ready to declare a state on Sept. 13, the deadline for a final peace accord, if no deal is reached by then.
However, in a joint statement at the end of Camp David, the Israelis and Palestinians said they recognized the importance of "avoiding unilateral actions that prejudge the outcome of negotiations." And since Arafat's return, he has not directly answered questions about the Sept. 13 deadline.
The deadline is not "etched in stone," Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi said at a news conference Friday.
Israeli legislator Uri Savir, who negotiated the 1993 Oslo interim accords, applauded Clinton's comments.
"I think the president is absolutely right because the whole purpose behind the Oslo process was to develop a process where the interests of both sides are decided in common," Savir said.
In the excerpts, Clinton did not say explicitly whether he would support an initiative in Congress, supported by his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, to cut off aid to the Palestinians if they make the unilateral declaration.
Israel has said that if the Palestinians declare independence unilaterally it will have grave consequences for the peace process and that Israel might also take action.
"Unilateral acts are not the way to make progress in the Middle East," Prime Minister Ehud Barak told reporters Friday as he toured the northern border.
"Both sides are committed to dealing with disputes through negotiations," he said. "I hope and wish that the Palestinians will not decide to take unilateral actions, and if they do so we will respond."
Clinton also said that if Israel and the Palestinians achieve a peace treaty, he will try to persuade Congress to grant Israel "the maximum amount of (financial) support" for its security needs and other costs arising out of the Israeli handover of territories to the Palestinians.
"If there is an agreement Israel will have further security needs," he said in Thursday's interview. "There will be human costs involved."
He said there will also have to be an international fund to rehabilitate or compensate the Palestinian refugees.
Clinton also disclosed that at the Camp David summit, the Palestinians supported Israeli demands for compensation for Jews who had to flee from Arab countries as a result of the Arab-Israeli war in 1948.
"Israel is full of people, Jewish people, who lived in other, in Arab, nominally Arab countries," he said. "The Palestinians said they thought those people should be eligible for compensation as well."
Arafat, meanwhile, called on Israelis to support Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who faces a no-confidence motion Monday that could bring down his beleaguered government.
It was the first time Arafat had ever made such a public comment on Israeli domestic politics.
"We are bound together in a peace accord and your choice of Barak was a vote of support for peace, which needs once again a strong push from you so that we can establish peace in the land of peace, in the sacred land, in Palestine and the Middle East," Arafat said in an interview on Egyptian television late Thursday.